Establishing a culture of accountability and responsibility strengthens the foundation for culture change and breakthrough performance.

One of the Nine Facets of a Corporate Culture mentioned in previous posts is accountability and responsibility. All nine facets work synergistically to create a resilient and productive culture for your organization.

In laying the foundation for a building there are often steel rods put through the concrete to add strength and flexibility under tension. These give the foundation greater overall strength under load and protect against earthquakes.

Accountability and responsibility are like those threads of steel—without them the cultural foundation is vulnerable to corrosion, and can crack or shift out from under you. 

What is accountability in simple terms?

  • Fundamentally being accountable is defined as “being answerable for”. The roots of the word stem from Latin words; meaning to account, to calculate, or reckon.
  • Thus to be accountable is to be answerable for providing or governing something and giving an account. Unfortunately accountability has gotten a bad rap since it often conjures thoughts of blame and punishment, rather than workability and productivity. 

Establishing accountability practices for breakthrough performance

In practice, what does true accountability sound like? When some one is accountable they will say something like: “ I said I would produce or provide ‘x’ result and I did or did not do that.” To be complete and to impact future effectiveness, this approach also includes a kind of “reckoning” of what actions and missing actions were taken, or not taken that produced the outcome—it also includes new commitments for future actions.

It is unusual to hear this clean approach to accountability, as it involves no blame, stories, or justification. You simply account for results, as well as actions taken and not taken. This will open up room for actions toward higher future performance.

It is not uncommon in the first stages of a consulting engagement to interview a cross section of people in the company and hear their current perspectives and accountabilities.

More often than not, people do not mention actual results as what they are accountable for, but instead speak of tasks. Even senior-most executives have been known to say that their accountabilities have nothing to do with business results.

Transforming a culture of unclarity to one of accountability lays the “steel rods” needed to establish a strong and flexible foundation for sustainable culture change. It leads to breakthrough performance and frees up creative and inspired action.

In part two of this post we will distinguish responsibility from accountability and give three simple actions you can take to begin to inspire a new culture of accountability.

What outcomes are you and your colleagues accountable for? Are they clear?

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