Most leaders will agree that a culture of accountability and ownership is essential if the goal is to achieve operational excellence. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t take the steps necessary to build accountability into the day-to-day practices of individuals at every level. Like everything else that has to do with organizational culture, accountability will not happen by accident. The good news is that leaders can take some simple yet powerful steps to bake in a sense of responsibility and positive engagement.
Signs of a Lack of Accountability
Before we dive into how to promote accountability, it is helpful to understand the symptoms of a lack of accountability within an organization. If a lack of ownership exists, you may experience:
Low morale: This may seem a bit counterintuitive. If folks aren’t held responsible for achieving their goals, won’t they be happy? Not really. If I am not held accountable, my co-workers probably aren’t either, which can lead to a deep sense of frustration and confusion.
High conflict: Without a clear set of priorities and good strategic alignment, every decision can turn into an argument.
Less engagement: When meeting commitments and taking action to solve problems is seen as optional, folks tend to avoid any discretionary effort.
High turnover: Unclear priorities, lack of trust in team members, poor communication from management, absent feedback, and disengaged management are all top reasons talented employees leave their jobs.
If all of that sounds terrible, it’s time to assess the requirements for a culture of accountability and make sure to build them in your organization.
Start with Leadership
Accountability starts at the top and must be applied equally at all levels. It is helpful for leaders to be vocal about their own goals and daily steps to achieve them. When mistakes are made, leaders contribute to a culture of accountability by owning up to them and explaining the corrective and preventative actions.
One excellent approach to accountability at the management level is Leader Standard Work. By defining and describing the steps managers will take to contribute to continuous improvement and feedback for their teams, employees gain confidence and trust in leadership.
Address the Hiring and Onboarding Processes
The idea of accountability should be top of mind for each new employee beginning with the first interview. It is essential only to hire people who will be a good fit for your culture, who understand what it means to make and keep commitments, and who will have high expectations of their manager and co-workers. The following questions can help guide the conversation:
- In your past role, how was your performance measured?
- What role did you have in setting your own goals and objectives?
- How have you handled co-workers who did not live up to their commitments?
- Can you describe a time you failed to meet an obligation and how you handled it?
- How do you like to receive feedback from your manager?
Once you’ve found a candidate who seems to fit in with your culture, be sure that the onboarding process prepares them for your team’s approach to accountability. Be sure to include a discussion of the strategic objectives, their individual performance metrics, and your approach to continuous improvement.
Set Clear and Specific Goals
It is impossible to hold people accountable if they don’t have a clear understanding of what they are responsible for. That’s why we love the SMART approach to goalsetting so much.
Goals should be:
- Specific - People become much more invested in success when goals are clear and detailed. For example, “Reduce patient wait times” is a laudable goal but not specific enough to be actionable. “Ensure that patients are escorted to an exam room within 5 minutes of arrival by streamlining the registration process and alerting medical assistants immediately upon arrival” is more detailed and therefore actionable.
- Measurable - Every goal should have an associated metric that can be measured. This is possible even for “soft” objectives such as employee or customer satisfaction. Ideally, the measurement will serve as an early warning system if a goal will be missed so that action can be taken. For example, looking at results daily or weekly rather than waiting until the end of the month. Control charts are an excellent tool for identifying trends and changes in process performance.
- Attainable - Setting unrealistic goals can harm a culture of accountability. If it is impossible to meet expectations, people will stop trying. It is OK if goals require people to stretch to meet them, but there must be a clear path to success.
- Relevant - The whole purpose of creating a culture of accountability is to help the organization meet its most critical strategic objectives. That’s why it’s vital that how each person is measured is aligned with the overall goals. People should know exactly how their work relates to the big picture.
- Timebound - Tasks or objectives with no target date tend to get put on the back-burner. For even long-term goals, it is necessary to have associated dates when progress will be measured, even if the goal won’t be accomplished for years.
Implement Active Problem Solving
Once you have clear goals in place, fostering accountability requires helping people overcome the challenges and obstacles that they will undoubtedly face. Here it may help to borrow some tools from the Six Sigma and Lean business methodologies. A few problem-solving techniques that can help are:
The 5 Whys: Getting to the root cause of a problem generally requires asking “Why” five times. This technique is beneficial for finding process flaws rather than blaming people for errors or delays.
Gemba Walks: When leaders visit the place where work is done, they show respect for employees and often uncover opportunities for improvement. In addition, understanding why people make the small decisions that impact results help discover obstacles that can be removed.
A3 Problem-Solving: The A3 technique is a structured approach to defining the problem, exploring potential solutions, and tracking changes over time.
With the right team, commitment from leadership, clear expectations, and tools for problem-solving, your culture of accountability will flourish. Finally, be sure to celebrate success and operate from a place of optimism and positivity. Your organization’s[s results will reflect this effort.