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Building A Culture of Accountability

What do accountable employees do individually? For one, they quickly recognize their mistakes and failures and concentrate on correcting the situation and learning from the experience. Also, accountable employees don’t pass the buck or condemn others. They keep their word and honor their promises even when they would prefer not to. Finally, accountable employees push through and find means to get the job done despite the different obstacles and hindrances.

Clearly, then, a culture of accountability is useful -- in any organization. And accountability, as we recently wrote, comes from the top. To establish accountability at your own company, make sure you have solid, steady leadership that validates and rewards accountable behaviors. Have your leadership model the accountable traits you desire in your employees.


Hire people who will accept responsibility.

You need good material from which to build your business. Therefore, hiring the appropriate people is important. You have possibly heard that past behavior is the strongest predictor of future behavior. Most HR professionals would agree that for hiring, it is necessary to probe for past behaviors and actions, and their results, to have a stronger idea of how an employee might perform in identical circumstances.

Set clear and quantitative goals/expectations.

If you are going to keep employees accountable for bringing results, be explicit about specifically what results you hope. It can be helpful to engage the employee in the process. When employees feel they've worked in setting the goals, a sense of buy-in results. While SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time- bound) have been around for more than 30 years, they are still an efficient management tool.

Delegate authority.

You should designate to specific accountable employees those key decisions that will influence results. For example, we often see well-meaning business owners seek to hold an employee accountable for bringing results, but those owners don't give the employee the authority to choose his/her team.


This is a mistake. Nothing impacts results more than the choice of who will do the work. If you are going to adequately hold people accountable for results, entrust them to make the decisions that impact the results.

Measure and review results.

You should measure, record and review results with employees. Too often, we’ve seen goals established, written down and put into a file. Either they are never discussed again or they are considered a whole year later at the annual review.

Systematically reviewing an employee’s growth toward achieving a goal is much more useful. We believe that weekly one-on-one meetings work best to keep employees on track. However, in positions where progress toward goals naturally moves more slowly, you may choose to meet less frequently.


Address deficiencies.

During reviews, you may need to explain that an employee is not on track to succeed; in that case, expect him/her to develop a plan to address the deficiency. Berating the employee is not significant. Instead, ask her/him what actions will correct the problem. If the response seems inadequate, coach the employee. Help establish a set of action steps to allow her/him to achieve the goal. Remember, as the manager, you are liable for ensuring that your employees succeed. At the end of the day, if your employees fail to achieve their goals, you have failed as well.

To establish a culture of accountability, where employees are committed and seek ownership, you should lead by practicing what you teach. Once you are leading the way, you can use the steps described above to work with your employees to create the culture you wish.

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