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Building a Culture of Accountability: Holding Yourself and Your Team to High Standards

culture of accountability

As a leader, you probably wish that everyone would simply take accountability. Taking ownership and accountability is, of course, essential to build a successful and high-performing team.

In this blog post, we will provide practical strategies for holding yourself and your team to high standards: the traditional checklist, and some advice on how to make it work! Read till the end for the latter.

Setting Clear Expectations:

"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place," as Bernard Shaw has been quoted to say.

Does your team really know what is expected of them?

"The biggest problem with leadership communication is the illusion that communicating it once is enough," says Mette Johansson.

To cultivate a culture of accountability, establish clear expectations from the outset. As a leader, clearly communicate the goals, objectives, and desired outcomes to your team members. Ensure that each team member understands their role in achieving these targets and the specific deliverables expected from them by checking in to see if they have the same understanding as you. When expectations are transparent, everyone can align their efforts and take responsibility for their part in the overall success.

Share the "why", not just the "what" and the "how."

It's not just millennials and Gen Z who are craving meaning—the "Why" we do it. What is the bigger picture? What mission for a better world are you on? After a society has reached a certain level of wealth, people turn from focusing on having their basic needs fulfilled, to wanting meaning.

When your team understands the purpose and value of their work, they tend to be more engaged, committed, and motivated. Understanding the "Why" gives them a sense of meaning and fulfillment, and they can connect their daily tasks to the larger goal, which can boost their productivity and satisfaction.

Lead by Example:

In a recent conversation, a team leader was wondering why the team had a certain annoying behaviour. To anybody else but the leader, it was clear: this was the behaviour that the person modelled!

Leaders play a crucial role in shaping a culture of accountability. By modeling the behaviour you expect from your team, you inspire them to follow suit. Demonstrate integrity, consistency, and a commitment to excellence in your own work. Hold yourself accountable for your actions and openly acknowledge mistakes when they occur. By displaying this level of personal accountability, you create an environment where others feel empowered to do the same.

Encourage Open Communication:

If you have said, "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" it is probably because you haven't been the right role model. You might have shot the messenger in the past. Again, role model the behaviour. Lead by example.

Open and transparent communication is vital for accountability to thrive. Create a safe space where team members feel comfortable sharing progress, challenges, concerns - and mistakes. Encourage regular check-ins, team meetings, and one-on-one discussions to keep lines of communication open. Foster an environment where individuals are encouraged to ask for help, provide feedback, and share their ideas. Effective communication helps identify and address accountability gaps promptly.

Ensure Clear Metrics and Milestones:

Measurable goals and milestones provide a tangible way to track progress and hold individuals accountable. Work with your team to establish specific metrics and timelines for each objective. Regularly review and evaluate performance against these metrics, providing constructive feedback and recognition for achievements. Clearly defined targets help individuals take ownership of their responsibilities and understand their impact on the team's overall performance.

But here's the thing: Work with your team. If you have imposed deliverables on your team; and told them "This is what I expect", a lack of accountability could very well result. How about asking your team to define the milestones instead?

Simply ask, "What can you commit to by when?" and chances are that they will take accountability. We all take much more ownership when the roadmap and milestones have been defined by ourselves.

Foster a Supportive Feedback Culture:

Most people want feedback, because we know that it is needed to improve. Unfortunately, many leaders are not very skilled in providing feedback, which is a powerful tool for accountability and growth.

Encourage regular feedback exchanges within your team, emphasising both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Create a feedback loop where team members provide input to one another, enabling continuous improvement. When feedback is delivered respectfully and constructively, it helps individuals take ownership of their actions, learn from mistakes, and strive for excellence. Daily check-ins on "What went well, and what can we do better next time", can help provide a safe environment where people will provide constructive feedback.

Stay tuned for another full post on the topic of feedback!

Recognise and Reward Accountability: Recognising and rewarding accountability reinforces its importance within the team. Celebrate individuals who consistently meet or exceed expectations, demonstrating a strong sense of responsibility. Acknowledge their efforts and highlight the positive impact they have on the team and organisation. By recognising accountability, you reinforce the behaviour, and you can motivate others to embrace similar behaviour, thus creating a culture that values and rewards responsible behaviour.

Be careful when publicly praising. Individual personalities and different cultural backgrounds result in different preferences regarding praise. Some introverts, for example, may appreciate it more when given in private.

Building a culture of accountability requires intentional effort and consistent commitment. It requires your leadership.

Set clear expectations, communicate the "Why", lead by example, foster open communication, establish measurable metrics, promote a supportive feedback culture, and recognise accountability. When you do so, you will create an environment where individuals hold themselves and each other to high standards. When accountability becomes ingrained in the team's DNA, the organization thrives, achieving exceptional results and continuous growth.

And it is a lot more fun to work with a team that takes ownership over tasks, too!


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