Fostering Accountability in Tight-Knit Cultures

Most of us struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than in improving performance.

Instead of putting the effort to hold others accountable we often choose to ignore or avoid the problem behaviours. No one is ever fired for poor performance or confronted for arriving late or failing to complete time-sensitive tasks.

And the result – those who work with responsibility and show strong work ethics often have to pick up the slack.

Creating accountability for others is not an easy task. However, not addressing accountability issues have a great deal of impact on the organisation’s outcomes.

Here are a few tips for you to improve accountability within your organisation/team:

  1. Partner with a Leader. Firstly, changing these norms will require you to partner with someone who is in a supervisory role. You will need a leader who will share your concerns, who has the skill and autonomy to try these ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. Don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other priorities that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, and compromise.
  2. Focus on the Fool’s Choice.We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. In this case, the Fool’s Choice is between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?”, “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leader partner will need to address and answer.
  3. Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. Consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP)to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organisation’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results that departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realised. Identifying measurable results that must be achieved provides an immediate reason to hold others accountable.
  4. Identify Problem Behaviours.Involve the people affected by the problems (Ex: lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviours. The goal is to have the group agree on the behaviour changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise asks the group to identify new behaviours they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviours they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviours they need to Continue doing to achieve the results. Notice that these behaviours might be related to your organisation’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviours, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change.
  5. Build New Skills and Norms.We ask for 200 percent accountability for the behaviour changes the team has identified. This means that team members are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviours and also 100 percent accountable for the behaviours of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable.
  6. Provide Leadership Support.When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Work with your leader partner to identify formal and informal leaders who can help team members hold each other accountable. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

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