SO, what’s the one thing you need to do to create a culture of accountability?  Are you sitting down?  It’s heavy.  Ready.  Okay.  Here it is:

The one thing you absolutely must do in order to create a culture of accountability is…

Hold people accountable.


Seriously though, this really is all you need to do.

But, while it’s not complicated, it does require planning and effort, and some prerequisites. 

Here are a few things to note.

First, let’s be clear on what we’re talking about.  To hold someone accountable means to make them responsible, that is, answerable, for their behavior and the outcomes that their role  requires.

That presupposes a few things:

1.  That they know exactly what outcome(s) are expected of them, and when;

2.  That they are empowered to deliver the expected outcome(s), that is, they have the necessary skills, resources, time, authority, and network support;

3.  That there are known repercussions for failure to deliver, and consistent precedent has been set;

4.  That the behavioral standards of the organization are known, and, most importantly, displayed by the leadership group.  Managers have to walk the talk.

If this sounds stern and serious, it needn’t.  All of this can and should take place in an atmosphere of trust and enjoyment.

The keystone most often missing in organizations with poor accountability is empowerment (#2, above).  Inexperience, over-work, lack of tools or input resources, no decision making authority on the line, poor processes and/or lack of cooperation between departments, all provide ready-made excuses for under-performance.  if you have a valid excuse, you can’t be held accountable.

It’s hard, and indeed would be unfair, for leaders to hold an individual or a team accountable if they’ve given 100% honest effort, but have been hampered by any or all of the aforementioned shortcomings.  Even a lack of experience or skill is no grounds to blame someone for poor performance.  As the saying goes, don’t send a boy to do a man’s job… or at least if you do, don’t chastise him when he fails.

If, as a leader, you’ve made expectations clear, ensured that all responsibilities are assigned to individuals capable of handling them, made sure all required resources are at hand, and set a proper example, you can and should hold everyone in the organization accountable.

Now, a word of caution.  A good leader knows that even good people screw up.  In fact, you want them to.  If they never do, then chances are high they’re working within themselves, not pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for themselves or the organization.

Holding good people accountable does not mean every little misstep is highlighted and punished.  As long as people are on the team, they are on the team, and should be treated as teammates.  No finger-pointing, but no making excuses either.  Mistakes are acknowledged as a team.  Together we stand, divided we fall, and all that.

So, if you want to create a culture of accountability, you have to hold people accountable, but you can only do that if it’s just to do so.  That is, if someone is to be held responsible, it has to be fair that they are.