High Accountability in a Blameless Culture

By Ann
March 2, 2007

High Accountability in a Blameless Culture

When people returned from military service and assumed roles in business, the command-and-control style of leadership took hold. The authoritarian leadership style is out of fashion today because rather than promoting creativity, it promotes fear. When the boss is finger-pointing, people go on the defensive. They are not ready to consider “what can I learn from this?” or “What is a solution to this issue.” The negative emotions can lead to “shut down,” and they believe “it doesn’t matter what I do, so I won’t do anything.” In extreme cases, they sabotage your work or business. When people feel blamed, they do not feel safe to try new things. They rely on the leader more to tell them exactly what to do. Because if it is the boss’s idea, they will not be blamed for the outcome. 

People become very protective of themselves, so you don’t get the best of a person when they are stuck in a defensive state of mind. You end up getting the very minimum.  It is not an effective way to build a team that provides a safe environment for productivity and profitability. Companies that are still clinging to a command-and-control hierarchy can expect trouble. One of the main problems with a command-and-control structure is that it is very limiting.

A top priority for any business is organizational performance. It is not enough to develop and communicate strategies throughout the company. Strategies and goals must be executed. In a review article in 2015, Candido and Santo write that all strategies are not executed. What’s in question is, what percentage of them fail?

Organizations that have a culture of accountability produce better results. When people at all levels within your organization have a clear understanding of what is expected they take responsibility for making it happen. 

How do you change a culture of blaming and finger-pointing to one of accountability?

Hire disciplined people. 

Take the time required to find personally disciplined people. First, it costs 1.5 times their annual salary to replace an employee. Second, self-disciplined people go to great lengths to fulfill their responsibilities. They do not offer excuses for inferior performance. When your people clearly understand the goals, responsibilities, and expectations, you are free to manage systems and processes not people. Remember to support them with the necessary resources to do the work.

Have clarity about the vision, values, and strategies. 

If you don’t know where you are going, it’s hard to get there and impossible to know when you’ve arrived.  People like to be led by someone who knows where they are going and why. When you have articulated and put in writing what you intend to create together, people with the same enthusiasm and passion that you have, are engaged. When you share the same values, you have a common standard by which to make choices day by day at all levels in the organization. Clarity begins at the top.

Create a framework in which to work. 

Frankly, I like to know the pilot flying the plane I am on has a standard checklist that they use consistently regardless of the number of times they have flown. Making it up as they go has no appeal to me. Creating written checklists or procedures to provide a framework is not the most favorite task of many people. The advantages are consistent results at your standards of excellence and a system to address disappointing results. Operating within a framework allows freedom and creativity to respond to the unexpected.

Get it in writing. 

Would you borrow money from a financial institution without a written agreement that you both clearly understand and agree upon? For your mutual benefit, make written agreements especially on complex projects, new initiatives, important goals, and ones involving many people. Getting an agreement on paper eliminates assumptions and allows everyone to accept their individual responsibility before the project starts. If there is a misunderstanding down the road, you have a written document for reference to get you back on track. Written documents are energy neutral.

Finger-pointing is futile. 

Holding people accountable is different from casting blame. Employees who have agreed to stand tall and take responsibility for their action do not need to blame others.

Own mistakes. 

Provide a safe environment where people can admit errors. Learn how to apologize clearly, simply, without excuses. Authenticity promotes stability, strong company values, and teamwork.

Mutual accountability is a system for success. 

Being accountable is a commitment on the part of each member of a group to fulfill a given role. They commit to produce results that will make life easier and more productive for all. Willing to be accountable is an expression of confidence that you can contribute to a group. Expecting others to be accountable is an expression of confidence that they can contribute to the group.

Accountability is not a big stick to whip people into submission. 

It is a mutually empowering and beneficial principle. Accountability supports personal development, organizational productivity, respect for others, honest dialogue, and creativity. What steps are you taking to develop a culture of accountability in your organization? How much more productive would your organization be with a culture of accountability?

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