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Accountability means employees keeping their commitments to their managers and each other through honesty. It is requiring people to keep their commitments demonstrates that honesty (including meeting deadlines) is a must in your organization.

How to Drive Success Through Accountability

Here are 9 ways to build accountability and integrity into your corporate culture:

1. Create Action Steps In Team Meetings

Assign a note taker: During weekly team meetings, delegate someone to take detailed notes.

Ensure understanding: As action steps arise from the discussion, the note taker should pause the meeting to ensure that the person(s) assigned to the action are clear on the task, the deadline, and that they agree to complete the task by the deadline.

Review the tasks: At the conclusion of the meeting, the note-taker should publicly review these definitive action steps and include them in the meeting minutes that are sent to all attendees.

Follow-up at next meeting: Review the prior week’s action steps during the next scheduled meeting, noting the status of completed or uncompleted tasks.

For incomplete action steps, the owner of the task should state what they will reprioritize to ensure completion of the task within 24 hours.

2. Integrity of Keeping Commitments

Most of us believe we are people of our word. Our frequent overcommitting and inability to meet deadlines betrays a lack of integrity, with less emphasis on the veracity of our word.

Appeal to integrity: While the leader should not blame, shame, or condemn, emphasize the strong connection between breaking commitments and lying. Appeal to the person’s belief in their own integrity, and show them what “a person of their word” looks like.

Broken trust: Explain to them that every broken commitment also breaks trust with those to whom they committed. Tell them explicitly that keeping commitments is a necessary aspect of keeping your word. Point out specific broken commitments that have led to this conversation.

Agreement: Get them to agree that keeping commitments will become a base standard in their behavior.

3. Saying “No”

The need to please: Most people break commitments not because of intention, but because of a need to please. When their plate is full, they are asked to do more, and they inevitably and always say “Yes” to the added responsibility.

Being realistic: At the time of their commitment, encourage them toward the truth of what they can realistically accomplish.

Enabling “Yes”: As the leader, if you frequently demand that they say “Yes” amid ridiculous deadlines, then you are enabling their inability to say “No.” Instead, ask them if they can realistically complete the new task by the deadline. If they are not confident, help them reprioritize their tasks so that they can meet the deadline for the new task.

Allowing “No”: Building a culture that is allowed to say “No” ensures that your staff can accomplish tasks on time.

4. The Art of Renegotiation

Ask Permission: When people commit to a tight deadline, they feel the weight of that deadline and the fear of confrontation if the deadline is missed. They choose silence, believing that begging for forgiveness is less painful than begging for permission.

Truth and Renegotiation: As soon as the deadline seems in peril, a person of integrity approaches the leader to discuss the complications. We can only do so much with limited time and resources. Bringing all information to the table allows those involved to renegotiate priorities, realign resources, and work together to find the best solutions to meet deadlines. Renegotiation is valid and keeps us within the bounds of honesty about our deadlines.

5. Project Management of Your Commitments

Mini Projects: Even the simplest task is a project to be managed. Major projects involve a series of mini projects. The process for each is the same:

  • Write down the task, every time.
  • Determine resources needed to meet the deadline.
  • Identify and communicate with other stakeholders.
  • Confirm they can deliver their part to meet your deadline.
  • Are there risks to me not meeting my commitment?

If you are going to keep your commitments, you need to know how much of your time it will take and what is involved to meet the commitment.

6. Toeing the Line

Set the Standard: When someone does not meet a deadline, go to them to remind them of their commitment to the deadline and ask them what they will reprioritize to complete the task within 24 hours of the deadline. Tolerating missed deadlines demonstrates a lack of criticality on more crucial deadlines. Toe the line – ensure that your employees’ “Yes” is their Yes, and their “No” is their No.

7. Peer to Peer Accountability

Culture of Accountability: Leaders should not be the only ones holding each other to their commitments. A culture of accountability empowers one department leader to go to another department leader (without accusation, with humility) to remind him or her of deadlines and commitments.

Communication: No one will break commitments without letting the person know of resource or schedule issues and then renegotiating.

What to say to a peer or superior: “James, from my understanding, you had told me that I would have the report by today. Could you help me understand why I do not have it? Also, in the future, if you are going to miss a deadline, let me know in advance.”

No blame: The conversation is neutral, yet the need is clear. If peers “trampoline spot” each other to keep their word, the high standards of quality in the organization will exponentially increase.

8. Set Consequences

Expectations Ingrained: The most important consequence comes when people know you do not accept breaking of commitments. Mistakenly, we think that consequences in business equate to firing. There are a myriad of ways to set effective consequences when people continually break their commitments.

Team Expectations: Another crucial consequence is peer accountability. Empower the entire team –not just you– to approach people about missed deadlines. Creating a culture of peer-to-peer accountability relieves the burden of setting many consequences.

Trust Breakers: Set substantive consequences for outliers from the culture:

  • Tell them how their broken promise has harmed your trust of them.
  • Tell them you will ask for the deliverable hourly until you have it
  • Reduce bonus pay
  • Withhold some of their authority
  • Remove them from a committee

Firing is seldom a good answer, though you should be willing to do that for the sake of integrity and accountability in your organization.

Bottom Line: The important thing is that everyone in your organization knows that you are serious about people honoring commitments.

9. Set the Example

Look Inside: Hold yourself to the same high standard of keeping your word. The loudest voice of accountability is how consistent you are in meeting your commitments to others.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you find yourself as the primary person who hasn’t completed their weekly tasks?
  • Do you take on more responsibility as the boss than you can do?
  • Do you let yourself off the hook for minor missed deadlines?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are sending a strong message to your staff that you don’t really mean Tuesday when you say Tuesday.

Set the Example Yourself. The example you set will speak volumes to your employees and will raise their standard. Your work life will become immensely smoother and more productive when people treat their word as their bond.


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