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Creating a Culture of Accountability

By Randy Hall

When I hear someone use the phrase “hold someone accountable”, they usually mean punishing someone for not doing their job well. They are using the term “accountable” to represent the consequences for what they failed to do, or what they did incorrectly. If we only think of accountability as what we do after someone screws up, we never actually establish an accountable culture. Instead, we will build a culture where people fear taking risks, making mistakes, and trying new things because of the “accountability” that is actually “punishment.”

The first step to making any change is to define what the change means in terms of actual behavior. For example, are we all responsible for taking appropriate risks to increase the success of the practice? If we are, and we focus on punishment for mistakes, we are clearly going to confuse people. And confused people stand still. We need to create a clear picture of what accountability means and for what things we should all be accountable.

An Accountability Model

At Aspire, we created a model to help veterinary hospitals frame their thoughts around accountability in their organization:

  • Future vs. Past
  • Solution vs. Problem
  • Ownership vs. Blame
  • Proactive vs. Reactive

People who spend their time thinking about the future, focusing on solutions, taking ownership, and being proactive are considered highly accountable. Individuals who dwell on the past, always articulate problems, blame others, and are highly reactive, are considered victims and will never help an organization succeed as long as they choose to have a victim mentality. Once we define accountability with these four concepts, it’s much easier to assess talent based on it, coach to create it, and organize to support it.

Defining Accountability

If everyone in our hospital is on the same page with the definition of accountability, we stand a much greater chance of people being able to evaluate actions and habits based on that description, rather than everyone interpreting “accountability” based on their beliefs or historical perspectives about what it means. We as leaders can then support people moving in the direction of accountability and have meaningful, explicit conversations with those who are struggling to get there. Imagine walking out of your manager’s office after she simply told you that you needed to be more accountable instead of defining what accountability means and providing examples of how you can be more proactive, solution-oriented, future focused, and take more ownership? Which conversation is more likely to cause a shift in your performance by creating clarity and insight?

Leaders drive accountability in organizations by how they define it and how they coach and communicate with others based on that definition. They also support the interpretation by becoming more accountable themselves and creating an example. It’s easy to think that we are “fully accountable leaders” and yet still catch ourselves blaming others, dwelling in the past too often, focusing on problems more than solutions, or being reactive. Once we have a clearer way to measure our leadership against an accountability model, we become much better at finding opportunities for improvement and making progress as leaders.

Make no mistake, the actions of leaders will create the culture in any organization. Fortunately, we get to choose whether we build the culture we want or simply live with the one that evolves.