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The Power of Accountability

When team leaders and employees are held responsible for their actions, the business runs smoother and performs better.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: VITAL is in its second year of monthly CI Business Mastery Classes where it addresses important CI business topics via webinars.  Each class is supported by an industry brand. VITAL has agreed to share some of the information from these classes in a monthly column of highlights from its most recent webinar. The topics are the same as the previous year’s classes, but the content is refreshed. This CI Business Mastery Class was on driving accountability in your company, and it was supported by OneVision Resources.]

Today we will talk about what accountability really means, the differences between highly accountable people and those who are not, and how to hold people accountable in your business.

Accountability in a CI business
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Simply put, accountability is accepting responsibility and action for one’s job in the company. When people are being highly accountable, they demonstrate responsibility, they take charge, and they own their work. They think proactively and solve problems so they can improve their chances of being positively accountable for a win when things go well. When things go wrong, they don’t blame others and they seek help in fixing the problems.

Why is accountability important? Accountability builds trust between individuals and teams in the organization. When people know who is accountable for what, they can trust their team to execute. Accountability promotes ownership in one’s role and improves collaboration through a high level of integrity and enhanced performance. All these things lead to predictable outcomes throughout the organization.

The culture of accountability attracts A players and weeds out your B and C players. A players want to know what’s expected of them, they want to be held accountable, and they want to hold others accountable. Bs and Cs don’t fit into that culture and they simply don’t last.

Taking the Lead

When we see a lack of accountability in an organization, the one question that always comes up is, “Is our lack of accountability a people problem or is it a leadership problem?” Since owners and managers can primarily control their leadership, that is what needs to change first. Once leaders implement best practices and instill accountability, then the people problems will rise to the surface. You’ll see your A players rise and champion the processes because they want the Bs and Cs to be seen for what they’re leaving behind. The Bs and Cs are going start to get uncomfortable when you have this culture of accountability, and they will start throwing A players under the bus.

As a leader, you must hold yourself accountable before ever expecting anyone in your company or on your team to be held accountable. This is really challenging, especially if you’re a solo leader in your organization. That’s a very lonely spot. Go find some accountability partners, get a coach, find a friend, a mentor…someone who can help hold you accountable because it’s entirely too easy as a leader to not be accountable to yourself.

Next, be clear with your expectations. Have you ever been in a situation where a client or a teammate expected something from you, held you accountable for it, and you failed despite feeling like you did everything right? I think we’ve all been there. That’s a mismatch of expectations. You must be clear about what you’ll be holding someone accountable for and then offer constructive feedback along the way.

One of the best things that you can do for your organization, especially in a culture of accountability, is have regular one-to-ones with your team. And I know this takes a lot of time, but you must meet with your direct reports on a regular basis so they can give you feedback and you can give them feedback.

When you’re setting expectations for your team, do it in a collaborative way. When they’re part of creating those goals, they’re bought into the goals as well as into the outcomes. The consequences should be known in advance and implemented every time it’s necessary.

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Demonstrate that your word is meaningful and that you do what you say you will do. This goes so far in creating a culture of accountability and also sets the expectation for others about what you demand in terms of integrity. Leading by example provides a benchmark for the behaviors that you expect from yourself.

When we as leaders are let down by someone not meeting the expectations, we first have to ask, “Was that expectation clear?” Turn it around on yourself, as all too often there are unheard expectations that go unmet. If they’re unheard, how can they be met? Be certain that you’re clear and concise with your directions and your expectations. Documenting expectations helps to memorialize them and to ensure that they’re absolutely clear.

Praise and Consequences

All too often we get busy and we find very little time to address the constructive feedback to the members of our team. This can be confusing to your employees and incredibly damaging down the line. One useful way to deliver constructive feedback is to sandwich it — some good feedback, some not so good feedback, and ending with more good feedback. According to research, the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio is five to one. Humans tend to focus so much on negative feedback that it resonates more deeply than positive feedback. A feedback sandwich will help you get closer to a praise-to-criticism ratio that’s ideal.

There’s no better way to destroy your culture than to criticize your team in public. Make sure that you know your audience and that the criticism lands with them the way that they prefer things to land. And whenever your team improves what you’ve given them feedback about, reward that improvement. Show them that they’re appreciated — especially if it’s something that you’ve asked them to do differently.

When you do have to implement consequences, you need to do it fairly. Apply the same rules across all departments and staff. Always do what you say and don’t be a pushover. Consistent application of the rules is so critical to maintaining the culture of accountability. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and you lay out those potential consequences in advance. When the team knows what’s at stake, it’s much easier for them to apply the consequence — and also less likely that you’re even going to have to apply that consequence.

Quick Actions to Optimize

  1. Make accountability a team priority
  2. Have team leaders/mentors share the priority
  3. Ask for feedback
  4. Look for empowerment opportunities
  5. Challenge excuses and focus on solutions
  6. Look for success stories to reinforce when accountability and teamwork is working
  7. Solicit leadership for examples of when accountability is improving — look for those little wins and not perfection.

For more information about the CI Business Mastery Classes and the other services VITAL provides, visit