Creating a Culture of Accountability

Article by:
Ellie Byrd
EO Atlanta

I have my EO Forum to thank for my newest business venture. We were on a Forum retreat five years ago, sitting around the fireplace one November evening, talking about how we didn’t have a process for holding one another accountable. I volunteered to do some research and develop an accountability system we could all use.

Little did I know that within a few years, more than 50 Forums around the world would be using my system, and resellers would be clamoring to offer the product to their clients. It all started with a simple concept I call the "Three C’s of Accountability." This concept is designed for all individuals, their Forums and respective companies.

Regardless of your company, industry or location, staying accountable is as necessary a function as employing the right people. If integrity is the difference-maker in the success or failure of a business, accountability is its sole line of support. Without a fair distribution of responsibilities, entrepreneurs and their employees can fall victim to irresponsible business practices. How do you create an accountable culture in your business? See my accountability system to the right.

My Accountability System

CLARITY: The first requirement is clarity. We must understand the objective in order to achieve it. Imagine a world-class archer, an Olympic competitor who rarely misses the bulls-eye. Put a blindfold on him and spin him around a few times. Now ask him to hit the bulls-eye. In all likelihood, he’ll not only miss the bulls-eye, he’ll miss the entire target. The analogy is simple: If we don’t know where the target is, how can we hit it? If we don’t have clear goals, how can we possibly reach them?

COMMITMENT: Commitment is about being 100% determined to achieve the goal. It’s far more than just being interested. A good measuring stick is this: If you’re interested in achieving something, you’ll do it when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you’ll do it when it’s not convenient. Review your goals and ask yourself, “Am I interested in achieving these goals or am I committed to achieving them?”

CONSISTENCY: The third requirement is probably the most neglected and possibly the most important of the three: Consistency. First, it’s important to write down your goals and share them with others. This holds us accountable to sticking to them. It also gives us a consistent message. People who are constantly changing their goals will have trouble achieving them; at the same time, they are frustrating the people around them. Second, consistently reviewing your goals is important. A regular check in, like a weekly progress report, will help you achieve the maximum level of consistency.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you want to create a culture of accountability, you need to start by becoming crystal clear on what you want to achieve. This could involve a rigorous goal-setting process whereby you set three specific company goals for the next year, and then ask people to define their goals in support of the goals you've set. Review their plans and make sure you agree with the alignment. Work with people until everyone is comfortable with their goals.

Next, create an environment that inspires commitment. This could involve motivational training, providing support where it is needed and rewarding results. Ensure people have the tools and resources they need to accomplish their goals. Listen to their needs and concerns, and provide public recognition when they succeed. Consequences can come in two forms— positive or negative. From my experience, the positive consequences get far more mileage than the negative ones.

Finally, establish a system that supports ongoing accountability. There are plenty of choices out there. The system you choose isn’t important; what’s important is that you have a system and that you follow through on it. Build the system into your company processes until it becomes a natural extension of your company culture.

And Remember ...

Remember that changing the culture in your company isn’t an event. It’s a process. It will take time and effort, and there will be some painful steps along the way. One thing I have seen repeatedly is that people who are not in alignment with the company culture will leave the company. When they realize that they’re going to be held accountable – publicly accountable – to something they don’t like, they choose the quickest exit and resign. But in the long run, isn’t that better for your organization?

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