Does your company have a corporate culture of accountability or do your employees play the blame game? Higher accountability is the #1 goal of many of my corporate clients.

By default, people tend to want to hide their mistakes and when confronted, go toward defensiveness and attempt to shift blame, especially when they feel that mistakes could cost them their job, or reputation. That kind of behaviour is toxic in the corporate environment and an indication that you have a culture problem.

When companies start to create a culture of accountability, they must first focus on creating safety. In order for individuals to put their egos aside and admit fault, they need to feel safe to do so without serious repercussion and be provided the training or direction to avoid the mistake in the future. Admitting wrongness is only the first step to creating the culture change you need.

Imagine sitting around a boardroom table where everyone talks about what they were supposed to do and a few say, “Sorry everyone. I was supposed to do such-and-such, but it didn’t get done.” to which everyone nods and moves on.

A lot of good that does, especially if it becomes the corporate culture! Honorably admit fault, take the high road, and all is forgiven! What you end up with is a group of high-minded, righteous nobles who freely take responsibility without any desire to change, and move on like nothing happened. What message does that send to the rest of your employees? “Work hard, but if you don’t, no worries.”

Accountability requires acknowledgement of impact

The next step in creating the culture of accountability is to attach an impact to the wrong. So, in our boardroom scenario, when a member of your team confesses to missing an important deadline, you need to stop the meeting right there and discuss what impact it has had on the rest of the team.

It’s only when people understand their impact that behaviours start to change. Unlike you, who is in position to see all the inner workings of the company, they may not see the domino effect caused by their actions or fully understand the impact on the bottom line. Creating awareness of impact attaches a higher level of awareness related to the wrong.

Next, they need to fix the problem through restitution which may require more training. What are they doing to do about it such that it doesn’t happen again or at least that they alleviate the stress their wrong created for the rest of the team? Ideally, the wrongdoers would come up with the fix themselves, but it can be a team effort with those affected. Be careful not to jump in and ‘tell’. A personal or team choice creates a significantly greater buy-in and empowerment to continue that change, as well as supporting the safe and open communication needed to create the solution.

Steps for creating a culture of accountability

  1. Create a Safe Environment – Start by making people feel like they are in a safe place where mistakes are treated as teaching moments. Admitting fault requires trust, and the lack of it is typically the reason people try to hide or deflect blame. Avoid name-calling or public humiliation and aim for curious conversation that creates understanding to build safety.

  2. Start With the Top Down – Set a good example. Like any cultural change, behavior is led from the top down in order to become embedded in the corporate culture. Think of this as ‘follow the leader’ and you guessed it, you ARE the leader!

  3. Open the Communication Channels – Be upfront about addressing the problem without being adversarial. Let your team know that this is part of a move toward building a culture of accountability and involve them in the process. This means being assertive, while continuing to support your team to find value in the change and growing together.

  4. Leverage the Power of “Team” – This process is about changing a collective behavior and way of thinking more than personal attacks and pointing out the slacker. Accountability is nine times higher in a group setting because of peer pressure! Leveraging that power is the key moving the group to the next level.

  5. Be Consistent – Firm, but fair in enforcing the accountability rules. As soon as people sense that it isn’t across the board, or you are immune as the leader, your culture shift is doomed to fail. Apply the rule to everyone at all times. No exceptions.

  6. Don’t Tolerate Terrorists – Accountability is simply not for everyone. As your culture begins to shift it will become very clear who is slow to adapt, and who is simply unwilling to come along AKA the terrorist. The longer you tolerate the terrorist the more your desired change loses momentum and actually reverts back to the way it was, costing time and money.

Trying to create a shift to a culture of accountability in your company? It takes a focused effort to truly effect a change, which is why you need a relationship and team coach to help!

Need a little extra support, call me to get started. Here’s to you finding your awesome!

Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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