Most of our careers include that one conversation you never forget. For me, it took place over 20 years ago. I was managing an outsourced operation at a Wall Street Financial services company. The conversation was with a person who was displeased with the turnaround time for my team’s deliveries. I remember her scolding, “If you say you are going to do something, you darn well better do it.” Keep in mind, I was a seasoned business professional, selected to lead this team because of my business acumen and experience. Yet, here I was being treated like a child.
Her demeanor should have offended me. But I couldn’t argue with her comment. Personal accountability and following through on our commitments are characteristics I live by and I had instilled them in my team. The problem was with this person’s approach. She was demanding that my team and I be accountable. She was actually a bully.
Accountability is an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. My experience is that there are two approaches to accountability, the demanding approach and the inspiring approach.
We are all too familiar with the demanding approach. That’s what I experienced with my client. It is the old ‘command and control’ workplace where the people in charge (I hesitate to call them leaders) instill fear in employees to get the work done. Using this approach to push people to work harder and be more productive may end up backfiring.
In a workplace where people are inspired to be accountable, leaders create a culture of accountability through their own actions and values. In his book “No Matter What”, keynote speaker and author Sam Silverstein, writes, “It is not the values that make you successful or create that amazing culture you want in your organization. It is the commitment to those values, no matter what, that delivers on that possibility and promise.”
Creating a Culture of Accountability
A culture of accountability is built on a foundation of the following elements that help create an environment where employees can thrive and be productive.
- Trust – trust is the basis of a culture of accountability. When trust is high, employees will live up to their commitments and they will honor the work of others.
- Communications – a workplace where the communications are transparent and there are no hidden agendas will foster trust and accountability. It will make employees feel like they are given the information they need to do their jobs. They get the full story, not half-truths or lies.
- Purpose – when individuals feel a connection to the purpose of the organization, they are more willing to make a commitment and be accountable for their actions. They will be intrinsically motivated.
Working to develop a culture of accountability will create a workplace where employees will be inspired to be accountable. They will be more likely to take ownership of their actions, thoughts and attitudes. What better way to create an engaged and thriving workforce?