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"Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have." Pat Summitt, head coach emeritus, University of Tennessee Lady Vols

The world rushes on at an unprecedented pace; technology and systems grow more sophisticated every day. At the same time, the foundation for business success does not get more basic: accountability. Responsibility. Keeping one's word. Meeting expectations. Acting with integrity. Basic - but not necessarily simple. How do you create a culture of accountability, ensuring every employee - from CEO to floor crew - feels a sense of ownership?

Why Accountability in Non-Negotiable

Systemic accountability provides a host of benefits for organizations, and it certainly goes a long way towards making the CEO's job easier. Vistage speaker Ian Cook explains how:

  • You know you can trust and rely on your people, which reduces stress levels.
  • You have more time to focus on strategically imperative tasks. Or even fun!
  • You achieve maximum productivity from employees who are working at full-capacity.
  • Your people are confident, engaged, and motivated to contribute more meaningfully to the organization.
  • Trust and respect among team members climbs.

As accountability becomes the cultural norm, the benefits increase exponentially. Now the trick is getting it to become business as usual.

6 Steps to an Accountability Culture

Creating a new culture, or a shift in culture, takes time, sustained effort, and repetition of the following practices:

  1. Don't tell people how to do their jobs. Lee Iacocca said, "I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way." Resist the urge to tell people how to do tasks - or rather, telling them how you would do it - or giving them all the answers. After they have the proper training, onboarding, and clear objectives, they'll be able to figure out solutions and create systems that work for them.

    At the same time, they'll achieve a sense of ownership. Geneca CEO Joel Basgall writes, "I can't appoint ownership. It happens when an employee comes forward and says, 'I'm going to make this happen. Here's what I will do. Here's what I will accomplish. And here's how I will measure progress. Ownership means saying, 'You will' is unnecessary because the employee has already said, 'I will.'"

  2. Explain you expect them to take responsibility. As your working relationships mature and employees are getting tasks/responsibilities right, let them know that you expect them to take responsibility for their own performance, career path, and satisfaction. You'll be there as a support - not as a crutch. You'll ease up on the amount and intensity of direction you provide as they "take the wheel" themselves.

  3. Ask the right questions. When a direct-report comes to you for help, ask what form of assistance do they need: a sounding board? Solution? Ideas? Suggestions? Ask: What have you tried? What do you think might be a good course of action? Did you do X? Did you try Y? What happened? Prompt people to consider alternatives and come to their own decisions.

  4. Create a "humiliation-free" zone. Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School suggests you provide "safe havens" in which to discuss progress (or lack thereof) and problems. The goal is to discuss difficult issues without blame or judgement so people can access the information they need to make positive changes. When people do not feel accused, torn down, or defeated, they are far more likely to take responsibility and improve.

  5. Recognize accountability. To take initiative is to sometimes fail. When employees take responsibility for trying to solve a problem, improve performance, or deal with sensitive issues, recognize their efforts as an accountable member of the team.

  6. Practice what you preach. If you want your people to act with accountability, you need to lead them. Share your performance reviews, model responsibility by owning up to mistakes or errors, meet your commitments consistently. You first.

These steps towards a culture of accountability will help you, and your organization, take giant leaps in productivity, engagement, and results. It's time to get back to basics.


Larry Hart

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