Achieving True Accountability


In organizations, accountability is often viewed as something negative that happens to you when things go wrong. This kind of accountability never works. Real accountability is achieved through a step-by-step process that makes things go right.

Accountability should not be defined as punishment for mistakes. It’s a powerful, positive and enabling principle that provides a foundation to build both individual and company success.

The way we hold one another accountable defines the nature of our working relationships, how we interact and what we expect from one another. With positive accountability, people embrace their role in facilitating change and take ownership for making progress happen.

When people adopt a sense of accountability, they recognize that their participation can and will make a big difference. They go the extra mile because they know what to do, and they know how their job and their actions will drive results. This adds energy to their work, as most people crave meaning and fulfillment.

Accountability is the single biggest issue confronting organizations today, especially for those engaged in big change initiatives. When you build a culture of accountability, you have people who can and will achieve game-changing results.

Accountability steps include:

  • See it: In order to see what needs to be done, you must take responsibility for reality. Because reality frequently changes, you need to stay alert and be flexible. There’s no hiding behind what used to work. When you see something, you must rise to a new challenge. This means obtaining others’ perspectives and candidly asking for and offering feedback. You must be courageous and relentless in your pursuit of acknowledging reality.
  • Own it: Accept being personally invested in outcomes. Be willing to take risks and learn from successes and failures. Align your work with what the company needs. Link where you are and what you’ve done with where you want to be and what you’re going to do.
  • Solve it: Obstacles can always get in the way of achieving results, so apply persistent effort. When thwarted, find another way. Keep asking, “What else can I do so this gets resolved?” You must learn to overcome cross-functional boundaries, limitations and “no” responses.
  • Do it: Focus on top priorities, overcome obstacles, do what you promise to achieve, and avoid blaming others. Work to sustain an environment of trust for all participants, even those who are unwilling to help.

In a culture of accountability, people step forward to become part of the solution — often when they begin to see others doing it. Managers should seize every opportunity to model this behavior with their own attitudes and actions, which will create a trickle-down effect.

The payoffs for positive accountability are better performance metrics, but perhaps more significant is what people report internally. When people participate more fully in their jobs, they create meaning and fulfillment. Work becomes more pleasurable. And when people start achieving better results, they are most likely rewarded in tangible ways, as well.