Building a culture of accountability

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Three actions leaders must take

Business Advice

(Originally published in the Feb. 2014 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal)

Almost every leader has been there. One minute you’re living the company values, and the next you’re making an exception for yourself. Perhaps you have an official policy of being super-responsive, but when an especially problematic client calls, you avoid him for a day or two. Or despite a stated commitment to respectful communication, you lose it and shout at Margaret in sales when she falls short of her quarterly goal once again. Or you have a no-excuses policy on deadlines, but when you personally miss one, you just finesse the client into giving an extension.

Sure, we all make mistakes, but if you’re not holding yourself accountable to the values you say are important, don’t be surprised when your bad behaviour starts to trickle down and ultimately impacts the company’s bottom line.

Employees pay attention to what you do, not what you say, says Julie Miller, co-author along with Brian Bedford of “Culture Without Accountability - WTF? What’s the Fix?”

“Your behaviour makes clear what the real corporate values are,” says Miller. “So when you or other higher-level leaders ignore the company’s values, department managers think they can behave that way too. Meanwhile, employees will think they can ignore important change initiatives because management gets to ignore them.”

Here are three critical actions leaders must take in order to create a winning culture:

1) Hold yourself accountable. You must hold yourself accountable to at least the same level of expectation you have for your employees. A rule applies to everyone or it applies to no one. As a leader you must be keenly aware that everyone is watching you, and everything starts at the top.

2) Spell out expectations to the letter. Without clear expectations, there is no way to hold someone accountable. You must make sure that each employee has a clear understanding of what is expected of them in the job he or she performs. That may mean going into detail that, on the surface, feels like overkill, but isn’t. Telling employees “It’s vital to me that I can always rely on you to do what you say you’ll do. If you can’t because circumstances have changed, let me know ASAP with a fix-it plan,” sets a very clear expectation.

3) Hone the art of instant feedback. Most people don’t like giving feedback, and they like getting it even less. But you can’t hold people accountable without it. For feedback to be productive, it must be shared regularly and without delay. If this practice becomes part of the culture, your people will come to expect it and not feel that it’s anything unusual. Ensure feedback is specific, focusing on the particular issue or behaviour in question.

Organizations: ASAP

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