The word ‘accountability’ strikes fear into many and is perceived as a way to ‘get’ someone. The truth is, if looked at holistically, it creates a level playing field, encourages an honest culture and allows people to learn from their mistakes and grow.
Accountability is an individual value. We all know people who take pride in their ability, measure themselves against their output, and want to achieve their performance targets : the employees we call ‘easy to manage’ because they are self-led. But this trait doesn’t exist in all, and not all organisations foster a culture that allows people to learn from errors.
In high-performance teams, peers immediately and respectfully confront one another when problems arise. This drives innovation, excitement, confidence, trust, and productivity, and it frees the boss from playing referee and having to improve morale.
While behaviour is individually led, consequences must be led top-down. You need to provide the tools to break the cycle of anti-accountability behaviours: ignoring, denying, finger pointing, covering of trails, confusion, waiting for instruction, declaring ‘it’s not my job’/‘I didn’t know’.
Set the scene for accountability
Two elements need to be assessed to hold someone accountable: an individual’s means and their ability. As a manager, only once you have evaluated both areas, can you hold someone accountable. Then ask: does the person understand what is expected of them?
Create an accountable culture
The accountability cycle by Epstein and Birchard has four elements that play a role in corporate accountability: governance, measurement, management systems and reporting. You need to have all these in place so that you can demonstrate fairness and transparency. However, this takes time.
Look at what you can do immediately; Partners in Leadership® developed a model for accountability. Every organisation is different, but it’s a useful framework for individual accountability:
Employees need to be conscious of what they do and the part they play in a business’ success. They need to see their value and how they fit into the broader context. On the flip side, individuals may not recognise talents/short-comings, so encourage conversations and let them seek constructive feedback.
Coach teams to identify what factors have led to a situation. Do not allow counter-productive behaviours and insist that people objectively recognise what is happening and stick to the facts.
Once teams and individuals own situations (good and bad), you can insist they create solutions. As a leader, it may seem easier and quicker to solve a problem, but you disempower and enable complacency by doing this. Encourage suggestions and then offer assistance. The more they see themselves as part of the solution, the more they will develop a sense of accountability.
Employees need the opportunity to make changes to own and solve problems and need to be taken to task if decisive action isn’t taken. Moreover, when things are done right, encourage and reward to maintain accountable attitudes.
As a leader, culture is created where you spend your time, so spend time catching people doing things right and with those who are achieving well, spend time encouraging and rewarding; thank people for good work. They will feel valued and respected, and that’s what creates the best culture – and encourages the positive side of accountability.
Author bio: Jane Stevenson is the Strategic Director of Magnetic Storm, a multi-faceted audio-visual and events company. www.magneticstorm.co.za.