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WORKPLACE CULTURE: 4 Steps to Building a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace

Deborah-Mackin-2013-NewDirectionsAccountability seems to be the focus of most organizations these days.  How do we get employees to take more accountability for their actions?  What can we do, as leaders, to engender a culture of accountability in our workplaces?  Why do some people thrive on accountability, while others avoid it at all costs?

Let’s take a deeper look at accountability in order to increase our understanding and our options.  If we define accountability as “doing the right thing dependably, day after day, in our activities and relationships in order to fulfill the goals and mission of the organization,” how do we make it a constant in the culture?

Step 1: Establish the Beliefs and Values Required for Accountability
As you’ve heard me say so many times, behavior follows belief.  Therefore, our first step is to establish the beliefs and values required for accountability.  Let’s imagine that we think accomplishment, commitment, and responsibility are three values that reflect accountability, but others think trust, consistency and determination are core to accountability.  Our first activity is to discuss our various understandings of each of the values, the associated behaviors for each and then try to find common ground in our values that align with accountability.  Once we have the values and associated behaviors defined, we’re laying the foundation for accountability.

Step 2: Complete the RASCI Chart to Identify the Various Roles of Accountability
However, we haven’t defined the “rights of accountability” within the specific job tasks other than to provide someone with a job description.  So, our second step, is to complete a RASCI chart on the specific job, identifying among various stakeholders who is Responsible, Accountable, expected to Support, Consulted and Informed as we see in the brief sample chart below for a managerial position:


Major Tasks Position Director Direct Reports VP Team
Select candidates for job positions R, a A, C, S C, I, S I, S I, S
Onboard new hires for new positions R, A I, S R, C, I, S I R, C, S

R = the “doer” of the assigned task.  The R can be shared among various groups/people 

A = accountable with ultimate “veto” power and liability for results

a= Accountable for sub-tasks associated with goal attainment.  The “little a” is accountable to the “Big A” for decisions made

S = Support – expected to provide support to the process as needed for success

C = Consulted – individuals who must be consulted/addressed before a final decision is made

I = Informed – individuals who need to be told when a decision/action has been taken


broken-window-baseball-bp-1The RASCI is one of the best methods to identify misunderstandings in accountability as well as to capture a fairly clear picture of where accountability lies.  For example, if we have senior leaders who believe that, as individuals, they are the only ones “in the hot seat” – carrying the Big A – for accountability, then something is wrong.  Every position throughout the organization must have some Big or Little A’s in order to feel accountable.

Step 3: Eliminate the Use of External Attribution to Dodge Accountability
Now that we’ve identified the values and the job expectations, can we assume that people will be accountable?  Not necessarily.  As individuals we are “wired” to assign a cause to anything that happens to us.  That cause can be external – “the devil made me do it,” or internal “I did it to myself.”  People who resist accountability typically assign the causes of everything to external actions or events.  If people do this repeatedly, they develop “learned helplessness” where they resist taking accountability for anything.  As leaders we need to address this learned helplessness in our staff, but not necessarily in the way we think.

People who are accountable often tackle a lack of accountability in others by trying to “drag” them into accountability.  “You should do this….”  “You need to do that…”  “Don’t forget to….”  Instead of statements, switch to questions to help create the shift from external attribution to internal attribution.  Ask the following questions and let the individual move slowly toward accountability as you ask a series of questions

  • What steps could you have taken?What might you have done to this situation?
  • Were there any clues that you ignored along the way?
  • What risk did you avoid that might have made a difference?

Step 4: Praise Like Mad

In addition to asking questions to help someone see how they might be the cause of a problem or mistake, we need to make sure that their ego is strong enough to take accountability.  People who are confident and competent feel they can take accountability because if it doesn’t work out, they can always pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start again.  However, a person with a fragile ego imagines the worst if he/she takes accountability – “I’ll screw it up and bad things will happen.”  “My manager will kill me if I do it wrong.”   As a manager, if I can praise the individuals when they do good work and build their sense of self-capacity, they will no longer feel the need to play victim. So build the praise that strengthens the ego!

How to build accountability? 

  • Build the values and beliefs about accountability first
  • Use the RASCI to make accountability transparent to all
  • Listen for times when an individual uses external attribution to dodge accountability and initiate a switch to internal attribution through questioning
  • Praise like mad to build the person’s ego so that saying “I made a mistake” is not seen as terminal.Good luck!

Looking to create a new direction of a workplace with accountability?  Contact us for our FREE tools and how we might be able to help you build the workplace with enhanced accountability, responsibility and engagement.


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