Creating a Culture of Accountability
culture of accountability

Creating a Culture of Ownership and Accountability

One thing I've learned (the hard way) from founding a rapidly growing company is without ownership and accountability you literally cannot grow your business. In fact, without employee ownership and accountability, your business is dying.

Ownership offers the freedom for employees to deliver results. It’s about them taking initiative and responsibility for their work. Where there’s an opportunity to take initiative or bring ideas forward, it happens. Best of all, employees that rate high on taking ownership think like leaders.

Accountability is the flip side of ownership. It’s about following through and delivering on everything you own. True accountability is key, because there is an exponential impact (a detrimental one) to a team when one person can’t make timelines or complete work as expected.

When a team exhibits both ownership and accountability, a high-trust environment is created, and you’ll see the makings of a high-performance team.

Not only does ownership and accountability create higher performance, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management also indicates it results in improved competency, commitment to work, increased employee morale and work satisfaction. It’s also known to improve creativity and innovation because employees are more invested in the organization’s future.

[Related: Employers, learn how you can build trust with both job seekers and employees by responding to reviews]

However, according to AMA Enterprise, there is significant lack of accountability on the part of employees. In fact, 21 percent of respondents stated that unaccountable employees make up 30 to 50 percent of their workforce.

How to Create a Culture of Accountability and Ownership

Clearly, accountability and ownership are important. So, what can leaders do to create a culture of accountability that influences employees to take responsibility over their work? Here are five ways to instill a culture of accountability: 

1. Make ownership and accountability a lived value.

Don't just ask yourself how you can get accountability and ownership in the workplace -- make employees live it! Living values and communicating values are very different. I’ve found that the easiest way to embed these as values in your team is to start with goals and metrics.

Provide everyone on your team with their own meaningful goals and measurable metrics that align with the company’s. Clear goals drive many important behaviors, including accountability. Without good measurable goals and clear timelines, it’s almost impossible to effectively enforce accountability.

Another important aspect of good goals is how the help define what does not get focus. Often accountability suffers when too many commitments get made. Goals need to be achievable and priorities must always align with these goals. This allows employees to prioritize their work easily, for example, “Which task contributes to my goals?” Objectives and key results (OKRs) allow us to focus on our priorities, create clarity and accountability.

2. Draw a box and let the employee own what goes on inside it.

Similar to commander’s intent, establish expectations by defining what the end goal is and the results you’re looking to achieve. Highlight these goals to your employees, without prescribing how to achieve them.

Demonstrate that you trust employees by allowing them to figure out the course on their own. If you instill trust in them to get it done, you will empower them to succeed and take responsibility over the outcome.

They’ll also find the work more rewarding, which contributes to their taking ownership over tasks. Goal-oriented employees are comfortable working autonomously and require little oversight from manager and leaders. This leads us to the next point:

3. There’s no such thing as half delegating.

Micromanaging leads to resentment, stifles initiative and makes employees feel like a simple cog in someone else’s wheel. The compulsion for you to micromanage results from a lack of trust in employees, teaching them that they should seek constant guidance and check-in often, even when they feel like they’re on track. It’s also very difficult to take ownership over someone else’s playbook.

Give your employees an opportunity to problem-solve on their own rather than doing it for them. Productive employees are high-performing because they’re proactive about identifying and solving problems.

4. Explain why their box even exists in the first place.

Do your employees understand how their work contributes to the organization’s success? When leaders were asked this question as part of the 2013 study by AMA Enterprise, the results were staggering. More than half of the leaders questioned said that only 49 percent of employees fully understand the extent that their responsibilities contribute to the organization’s success.

Remember that box you drew for your employee? If you don't connect it to organizational success, an employee doesn't get a clear picture of the purpose of their job. Communicating how they directly cascade towards the organization's future success gives employees not only a sense of meaning and impact but also information that will allow them to improve the organization.

This goes beyond the metrics and outputs and into the “why” of the organization and team.

5. Become an active listener and let them make their box better.

If employees are taking ownership of their work, it's your job to help them do a better job, faster. You become their coach, not their manager.

Creating a company culture that encourages employees to express themselves and share ideas with you isn’t easy, but listening is the first step. Listening shows that their opinions matter to the business. Let them propose a plan to you, and work with them, if needed, to make it happen. Active listening also means explaining to the core when something is a “yes,” versus “no,” versus “a not now.”

A final word

Workplace accountability and taking ownership is all about acknowledging what’s on the line for your team and using it to motivate employees to achieve their goals. It’s a simple, human-based and very effective approach to avoid organizational mistakes and to improve overall performance.