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5 Steps to Creating a Culture of Accountability

This article was based on episode 194 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase any full episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.


Who is responsible for holding people accountable at work? In many organizations, it falls to the individual manager. But that’s not how effective accountability actually works. Instead, it’s about fostering a culture of accountability in the workplace. We do that by creating an environment of trust where our whole team feels responsibility and ownership over maintaining the expected values, behaviors, and outcomes of the organization.


A workspace that relies on individual managers to hold people accountable is likely to suffer from spotty performance. In addition, as strong performers notice a manager accepting poor behaviors, it decreases their motivation and often leads to those best employees leaving. To avoid this, managers can create a thriving culture of accountability by embracing these five elements.


1. SHARE THE WHAT AND WHY


A manager first needs to articulate their team’s values, acceptable behaviors, and expectations. People need to know what they’re being held accountable for in order to live up to it. Plus, being criticized for not meeting expectations that were never articulated fosters resentment and weakens trust. To create a culture of accountability, spell out for your team exactly what success looks like, for behaviors and work product, and outcomes.


As you communicate, make sure the expectations aren’t fuzzy. What are the specific measures or criteria they are aiming for? Have you shared examples of “good work”? Have you made your collaboration norms explicit? It’s important to share these expectations via verbal and written communication, and to remind people about them.


Your team also deserves to understand why these expectations matter. “Because I said so” or “That’s just the way it is” doesn’t cut it. Share how the expectations impact you, them, the team, and/or the organization. By putting it into context, you’re fostering more trust and ownership.


2. CREATE A SENSE OF OWNERSHIP


People take seriously what they feel responsible for. You want your team to feel ownership over both their successes and struggles, and occasionally failures. Begin by making sure to give credit for all accomplishments. Spell out and celebrate when their performance and collaboration lead to positive results. Accountability isn’t just about addressing when things aren’t working but also acknowledging when things are going amazing. Always give credit to your team (and yourself!) where it’s due.


For a real sense of ownership, trusting relationships amongst your team are an absolute must. Teammates that care about each other and feel valued by their manager don’t want to let each other down. This sense of community and mutual responsibility leads to greater motivation to get the job done well. Shared accountability will lead your team to push each other even when you’re not around, so you don’t have to hover over them for results to happen.


3. DEVELOP A POSITIVE LEARNING ORIENTATION


Spelling out the expectations and reasons won’t necessarily lead to better behavior if your team is terrified of making a mistake. Employees won’t accept full ownership over their jobs if they’re worried they will be blamed if something goes wrong. There is an important but subtle difference between taking responsibility for mistakes or missed expectations and being blamed for what went wrong.


Demonstrate you welcome questions and are there to help. And, when something goes awry, which eventually will happen, don’t freak out and point fingers or start counting shoulda, woulda, couldas. In a trusting environment, employees see failures as part of the learning process. Create safe spaces for your team to acknowledge their missteps which will improve relationships and encourage full ownership.


4. HAVE PLENTY OF ACCOUNTABILITY CONVOS


Maintain a dialogue of feedback with your team to reflect on successes and missed outcomes. These can happen at both organic and scheduled times. Aim for one-on-one conversations on a monthly or quarterly basis to ensure months won’t pass by without checking in on how things are going. Reflect on all of the positive wins you witnessed, and bring up any concerning trends, like chronic tardiness. Share what you noticed, the stated expectations, and why this behavior is problematic for the success of the person, team, or organization. Then give space for your employee to share their own perspective. With all of that information, finish off by brainstorming solutions together.


5. WALK THE TALK


Creating a culture of accountability starts and ends with you; your team is always watching to see if your actions line up with your words. But don’t worry if you’re not perfect. (No one is!) Owning your mistakes when you mess up leads to greater trust between you and your staff. That means you don’t get special treatment just because you’re the boss. You need to uphold the team norms, follow-through on commitments, and ask for feedback, just like everyone else.


The weight of creating a collective sense of responsibility at work doesn’t just fall on an individual manager. It’s about getting the whole team bought in so that employees depend on and push each other. The resulting culture of accountability leads to healthy, productive work spaces. When you role model accountability, create that sense of ownership and responsibility to each other, set clear expectations, foster trust and learning, and have accountability conversations regularly, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating your own thriving culture of accountability that benefits everyone on your team.


Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 194 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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