Have you ever griped about employees’ lack of initiative? Grumbled over their unwillingness to take ownership of projects, processes and problems? Then just shook your head, thinking there is nothing you can do to boost accountability?
“The challenge for organizations is that accountability is intrinsic,” says CCL’s Henry Browning. “People have to choose – for themselves – to act with ownership and accountability.”
But accountability can flourish in the right environment. If you want accountable people, you need to create the conditions that encourage people to fully own their decisions, explains Browning in the new book Accountability: Taking Ownership of Your Responsibility.
To foster a culture of accountability, organizations need to do five things:
- Give support. Employees need support from senior leadership, direct supervisors and their work teams. Learn to tolerate mistakes and individual differences.
- Provide freedom to direct important aspects of the work or to accomplish a goal.
- Share information. Employees need access to all information needed to make decisions.
- Provide resources. Red tape, tight control and too-few resources will undermine ownership and accountability.
- Be clear. Communicate with clarity the goal, responsibility and consequences of action or inaction. Who else is involved and what outcomes are expected?
Just as important, organizations need to remove unnecessary fear. When there is fear, people tend to hide, hold back and do only the minimum of what is expected. Fear can generate many other secondary emotions, such as aggressiveness, anger, micromanaging, defensiveness, lack of engagement and victim behavior.
The first step to reducing fear is to earn and maintain trust. Trust is built slowly, and when it is lost, it takes a long time to rebuild, Browning explains. “The best advice is to build it consistently over time by being competent in the work, knowing when to communicate openly and when to keep things in confidence, and following through on what you say you will do.”
In addition, every manager can counteract a culture of fear if they:
- Listen and observe behavior in meetings. Is there a balance of inquiry (asking questions) and advocacy (making statements)?
- Catch employees doing something right. Don’t just look to correct them when they do something wrong. Provide rich developmental feedback to foster learning and appropriate risk-taking.
- Get feedback on fear. Talk to employees and managers who you can count on to be straight with you about their observations about fear and trust. Ask questions like: “Are people encouraged to innovate rather than conform?” “Is dissent tolerated?” and “What happens when mistakes occur? How does leadership respond?”
- Acknowledge and share mistakes. Be up-front about your own missteps, poor judgment and errors – as well as the lessons learned. True accountability comes when you are willing to own your mistakes as well as your successes.
Finally, be sure to send a consistent message of accountability. Strive to be a role model of accountability yourself and expect others on your team or department to be accountable, too.
“Sometimes in an effort to minimize fear, managers ‘over-correct’ and fail to hold others accountable,” Browning explains. “Even letting just one person off the hook can do a lot of damage. You send the message to everyone, why bother?”