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Accountability diagram

Building a culture of accountability

When we talk about culture within an organisation, we are really talking about “the way we do things around here.” Or, more specifically “the way we do things around here to be accepted and rewarded.”

As change management professionals, we know that successfully building a culture takes a lot more than a Board or group of senior executives simply agreeing what the culture should be and telling everyone. Yes, it does need to be strategically discussed and agreed, but it requires more than a “one-off” simple communication to create the expected cultural behaviours. These behaviours are what underpins the performance of an individual or group, and ultimately the reputation of an organisation.

So how can organisations build a culture of accountability where individuals are (willingly) answerable to their peers and managers?

Any framework for managing culture requires a range of approaches and is essentially about managing messages – not dictating them. In an article  Creating a culture of workplace accountability, author Larry Wenger suggests, first of all, that everyone needs to hear what the organisation’s mission, vision and goals are…and hear about it repeatedly.

“This necessitates a lot of interaction between management and line staff,” he says. “The second part of these conversations includes a specific plan for everyone in the organisation to follow in order that their piece of meeting the organisational objective is followed.”

“Everyone from top to bottom should feel like they own an important piece of the process in order for the organisation’s overall goal to be achieved. They should see that their job and the way it is done makes a difference. This awareness should guide their work behaviour from one hour to the next.”

This is where the skills of change managers and communications experts often come to the fore. Change Management is about helping individuals and groups understand what is expected of them and to seize their part in “the change”. Change Managers also play an important part in encouraging organisational leaders to “walk the talk”.

Levels of accountability are directly related to the level of trust, engagement and ownership that exists within an organisation. Line managers play a pivotal role in generating high levels of accountability in their people. Cultural messages must be consistently conveyed by leaders through behaviours aligned to the culture – not behaviours that contrast or contradict. This involves “doing what they say they are going to do” and “saying what they mean.” Which in turn builds trust to which engagement and ownership can eventually be added.

“Finally,” says Larry Wenger, “employees need regular feedback about how the company is doing and about the importance of their efforts to organisational success.”

“When success is not achieved, leaders need to search for systemic reasons why rather than look for some employee to blame. Success on the other hand needs to be recognised, celebrated and rewarded.”

Larry Wenger is a graduate of the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Kansas. Larry spent forty years as a human service leader and helped develop programs for children and adults in the U.S., Canada and Guatemala. In 2004 he founded the Workforce Performance Group which helps non-profits, small businesses and associations develop their leadership capacity.

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