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 3 Things You Should Be Doing to Foster Accountability

As a leadership coach, I hear consistently, that schools, businesses, executive boards etc., don’t know how to foster accountability within their organizations. To combat people’s lack of accountability, some organizations decide to enforce harsh sanctions as scare-tactics or punishment. Some organizations brush wrong-doings under the rug until they simply become the norm. Some don’t acknowledge them at all, choosing instead to ask “problematic” team members to leave, hoping that that will get rid of the problem. None of these options are easy to maintain and, most likely, won’t create an environment in which people must be responsible for their actions or eager to follow through.

Success happens when people take ownership for the growth of the group or organization and then do something about it to move everyone forward. That’s accountability. So how do we foster that sense of accountability in our organizations? How do we get people to care about our organization’s growth?

Start with setting organizational goals. As a Summer Leadership Associate for Leadership Inspirations, I was one of the seven people facilitating our staff training this past week. One of the first things we did as a group of new and returning staff members was set goals. Since this was the first time being together as an entire team, we created goals that were specific to our four days of training. Some of the goals were learning everyone’s names, learning something about each person, being able to facilitate new curriculum, and “stepping up/ stepping back”. Collaborating on these goals established achievable expectations for us all… and that’s a vital aspect of this process – expectations have to be achievable. None of our goals were so lofty or outrageous that they discouraged people from committing or contributing to them.

Throughout our training, we revisited our goals to make sure that we were staying on track. And at the end of our time together, we lead a discussion on whether or not we felt like we achieved each of the goals that we set. This gives us time to evaluate our performance, celebrate our successes, recognize what we’d still like to work on, and discuss strategies for getting there. The next time that we get together as a staff, we will agree on new goals that are specific to our next task. Setting expectations is an involved and continuous process. As our group, responsibilities, and situations change, so should our goals to reflect those changes appropriately.

After expectations are set and clear, then we have to think about developing skills that help our team members to remain accountable. Assess whether or not people in the organization have the skill set to be successful in fulfilling your expectations. One way to assess this is to simply ask them, “These are the goals we just set, do you think you will be able to fulfill them? Why or why not?” This allows you to see your group’s strengths and opportunities for growth. Then you can plan, train, and provide resources accordingly.

It’s important to reassess learning as you go. If we forget to check in on our progress, we may lose individuals in the process. It was said in our staff training that sometimes, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. When taking on a new role or position, we are inundated with information that is meant to help us to be successful. But oftentimes, we might not realize that we have questions or concerns until we are asked to put it into practice. This is why it is important for organizations to remember to check in on their group members and their skill-building so that they can supplement learning as needed. The development of our coaches doesn’t end on the last day of our scheduled training. We are committed to a continuous process of training and development that is maintained by a culture of lifelong learning, feedback, and transparency. Our staff knows that there is still much to learn, but they leave with the tools, resources, and support needed to prepare themselves, so that they do have the knowledge and skills to be able to fulfill our expectations.

Lastly, we have to understand and develop positive relationships to help people follow through. Whose fault is it if staff don’t have the skills to be able to fulfill expectations? Is it theirs for not asking for help? Is it the manager/advisor for not preparing them? Is it everyone who sees them fail without doing anything about it to help them succeed? The answer is “yes” to all of those questions. Our groups, and the individuals they are made of, must acknowledge that everyone is accountable for the growth of an organization. Then, more importantly, they must be moved to take action because of this sense of personal and group responsibility.

This can be accomplished through intentional relationship building. We asked our staff to share their own expectations of themselves with each other and come up with three or four specific ways that they could help each other stay accountable to those goals. We dubbed these pairs, “Accountabilibuddies”. Then they set a time and date to check in on their progress. These check-ins should be used to make suggestions, offer advice, and provide peer-to-peer feedback as necessary. Encouraging relationships that will aid in helping people assess their own development is a great way to foster accountability without having to individually check-in with every single person on your team. Asking people to be actively involved in this process creates an investment in both personal and group success.

Accountability is a hard topic to have open and honest discussions about because, so often, people have their own ideas of what accountability means. By creating clear and achievable expectations, consistently assessing skill sets, and developing interdependent relationships between team members, an organization can revamp or build its standards on accountability so that everyone is on board. Try it out yourself! Think about the expectations, skills, and relationships that exist within your organization and challenge others to think about it too. Create a time and space to be able to assess these key elements as a whole group/staff. Then, find different ways to restructure your current standards of accountability from what you discuss.

*Leadership Lesson*

Consider this quote: “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do for which we are accountable” – John Baptiste Moliére

Then discuss with your group:

  • Do you think that this quote is true? Why or why not?
  • What are the consequences of this quote?
  • How do we see this in our own group or organization?
  • What can we do about it?

*Meet the Author*

Lindsay is free-spirited but prepared. She is going to grad school in the fall for school psychology and loves working with youth. When she’s not studying or working you can often catch her getting tangled up in aerial silks, doing acro yoga, or dancing.