Have you ever noticed how inexperienced and unsuccessful leaders tend to wield accountability like a weapon? Perhaps comments like these sound familiar: “If John isn’t meeting your expectations then you need to hold him accountable” or “if you don’t hit the sales target this month, I’m going to have to hold you accountable.”
Leaders who misuse accountability do so because they don’t know a better way. Accountability – when administered correctly – is one of the best ways to earn commitment and develop a culture of continuous improvement.
The right kind of accountability can produce high levels of engagement and loyalty. One of our customer service representatives recently left the company to pursue an opportunity in South America to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than himself. Some comments he made during his exit interview really grabbed my attention. He said “I was surprised how much I loved being held accountable. I felt productive! When I wasn’t being held accountable, I didn’t feel like my job had any purpose. It gave me purpose to strive harder to improve.” It’s clear that one leader was successful in holding him accountable, but the other wasn’t. What a difference correct leadership made for this employee!
3 Ways to Create an Accountability Culture
1. Start Accountability with You. One of my company’s core values is “Teamwork and Accountability: We hold ourselves and each other accountable to be our best selves.” The order of the word placement was intentional. We have to hold ourselves accountable before we can hold others accountable. If we don’t, we risk creating an environment where the leader says one thing but does another.
Imagine that you are a team leader and are being asked to make time in your busy schedule to have one-on-one meetings weekly with each member of your team. However, your leader hasn’t had a one-on-one with you since you began the role six months ago. That leader’s lack of self-accountability will likely be seen as the standard to follow and lead to disengagement.
2. Celebrate the Wins. It’s important that leaders use accountability to celebrate the successes, not just to effect improvement. I once heard the comment from a discouraged friend that her leader only talks to her when something needs improvement. She said it makes her wonder if she ever does anything right.
Neglecting to make time to praise good performance can kill morale. However, a quick comment like “I really appreciate how hard you worked over this past week to connect with your customers” goes a long way toward helping employees feel like their efforts to hold themselves accountable are noticed and valued.
3. Be Consistent. I believe that the source of all frustration is an unmet expectation. The leader who sets an expectation around accountability – but then fails to follow through – can do more harm than good.
Unfortunately, I once had a one-on-one wherein I and my employee set some goals for improvement. I indicated I would follow up the following week. However, I allowed other activities to get in the way and did not follow through on my commitment. Several weeks later that employee shared the disappointment she felt that she never got to show me how she had improved. Clearly, this was tough to hear and it became a big learning experience for me. I immediately committed to follow through on these commitments by scheduling them on my calendar.
Accountability must be used consistently if the leader desires to foster a culture of commitment.
Accountability can – and should – be a vital component of your company’s leadership culture. Overcoming the negative perception many have of this great tool starts with you. By modeling proper accountability, you will inspire others with your authentic desire to improve.