How Can I Get My Team to Be More Accountable?

Never Mistake Activity for Results

Amidst the current gloom arising from the economic and geo-political uncertainty we are hearing more than ever about organizations needing their employees to be accountable. But, what does it really mean for people to be accountable? Does it mean working harder; working longer; doing more with less? Perhaps. That may be a behaviour that changes with accountability, but it isn’t at the core of what it means to be accountable.

Why Accountability is Not Easy

Over the years there have been proponents of all sorts of mechanisms to promote accountability. Single-point accountability, accountability agreements and performance contracts are some of the many mechanisms intended to imbed accountability. Unfortunately, they often fail because they are simplistic solutions to a complex issue.

Unintended Consequences

Emphasis on single-point accountability, though sometimes useful, can quickly lead to a silo effect in an organization, when there is a lack of understanding of the interdependencies at play in the organization.

Accountability agreements attempt to establish the commitment of an individual to a set of precise and measurable contributions expected of them but are often both onerous to develop and dogmatic in their application. Additionally, if they are not developed collaboratively with the individuals required to do the work, there will inevitably be a lack of buy-in. This, we’ve seen in many situations, can actually create a desire to undermine the success of the agreement, thereby justifying any original discontent or disagreement.

A Culture of Accountability

A culture of accountability must recognize that there are several types of accountability including individual, cumulative, shared as well as single-point.

Individual accountability is where an individual is responsible for completing tasks and activities that meet individual outcomes, similar to a police officer conducting an examination of a crime scene.

Single point accountability occurs where one person has oversight over several work efforts, as a general contractor has, managing the construction of a house.
Cumulative accountability is very common in larger organizations where leaders are accountable for the operations below their level. Senior VPs are accountable for the work of their VPs, who in turn are accountable for the work of their managers and so on.

Finally, shared accountability occurs where several people work collaboratively to achieve a shared result or outcome, as would a surgical team performing a complex operation.

These different types of accountability are not mutually exclusive. Two or more are generally at play in any given situation. Appreciating and understanding the different modes of accountability helps us deal with one element of the complexity involved.

Personal Integrity

Another dimension of accountability is the personal integrity that must come from within the individual. People who hold themselves accountable are driven to deliver results in spite of setbacks or obstacles. They feel a very personal obligation to their colleagues and the organization that is evident in their tenacity to produce results.

Accountable individuals expect to be evaluated on the basis of not only their own, but also their team’s results.

Finally, if an organization is to create a culture of accountability, it must reinforce the commitment to accountability through organizational structures and practices:
1. Establish a clear focus on shared outcomes.
2. Understand the interdependencies of your teams.
3. Ensure role clarity.
4. Eliminate fear associated with admitting failures.
5. Continue to revisit and refine.

In short, accountability arises from the amalgam of multiple factors that require a deliberate effort on the part of leaders to both understand and promote.

For more information on this topic please contact Dickson Wood, Matthew Page-Hanify or Carolyn Craig at Framework Partners.