4 Steps to Creating a Culture of Accountability

When we are talking about accountability it starts and ends with clearly defined results.

Now, and into the future, accountability will be a competitive advantage that drives engagement, retention, operational efficiency, and bottom-line results. We aren’t talking about the historically negative, punitive view of accountability; we are talking about the positive, forward-looking empowering view of accountability.

The New York Times Bestselling Book, The Oz Principle introduced the transformational model known as the Steps To Accountability. This model consists of two parts separated by a thin line through the middle.

Below The Line® is where we aren’t taking accountability and where we focus on things we can’t control. We play the blame game, are reactive, and externalize the need for change.

Above The Line® is where we take accountability, we focus on those things we can control, we are proactive, internalize the need for change and take the See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It® steps to deliver results.

The contrast is clear and the benefits are real. Yet so many leaders and organizations still get stuck Below The Line.

Now we want to emphasize, it’s not wrong to go Below The Line from time to time. It’s human nature. We all do it. What’s wrong is getting stuck there. Think of the time, energy, and resources wasted when an organization plays the blame game instead of taking ownership for what it can control.

Some organizations get creative about helping employees move from unproductive thinking to innovative thinking: They add five minutes to meeting agendas for Below The Line time. Employees are invited to be honest and transparent about challenges. It can be quite therapeutic to share frustrations. But the most powerful aspect of doing this is when the leader guides everyone to make the shift and spend the rest of their meeting Above The Line.

It Starts with Results

So how can you and your organization create a Culture of Accountability, where people act and think in an Above The Line manner?

It starts with aligning on your results. This might seem like common sense, but unfortunately, we have found that it’s not common practice.

Many organizations are going 100 mph, but they are not sure where they are headed or what the finish line is. Our studies reinforced this point: our Culture Advantage Index® reveals that today, 95% of senior executive teams do not effectively clarify their organizations’ top priorities—leaving employees with a vague sense of direction and little understanding of how their daily actions impact organizational performance.

When we are talking about accountability it starts and ends with clearly defined results. Once the results are clearly defined and understood throughout the organizations, then you can take The Steps to Accountability.

 1. See It

The first step Above The Line is about acknowledging the need for change and evaluating what’s causing the need for change, preparing yourself to make the change, and handling it in an open and candid matter.

To be successful at this step, you must openly obtain the perspective of others by asking questions about the situation as well as asking for positive and constructive feedback about how you might impact the change.

The perspectives and insight gained may not be what you want to hear—but hearing the hard things is critical in understanding how you need to adapt to the change with agility and effectiveness.

2. Own It

The second step is to take ownership of the situation.

It’s natural that many people tend to resist change, but this apprehension can cause failure to occur when change is needed in order to win or survive.

It’s imperative that you take accountability for the overall needed change. Own the fact that you will encounter some challenges and failures, but never lose sight of the goal while adjusting accordingly.

You must also operate on the principle that everyone involved is jointly accountable to get the right result, regardless of how little or how much an individual is accountable to deliver on.

3. Solve It 

Next is to move into solve it mode and develop your action plan.

When identifying possible solutions to facilitate adaptation, it really comes down to asking one question, “What else can I (we) do?” This one question is disruptive in nature and perfect in times of change. It breaks down silos between teams, inspires innovative solutions, and helps you assess when a risk must be taken.

When asking this simple question, it’s important to understand that “what else” often means “think differently,” not “do more.” 

4. Do It

The final step is to execute the change.

This step is about follow through and staying accountable to your team. Trust is built throughout this entire process, but it’s here where you truly are accountable to one another to get the right result.

Success will come by being honest, transparent, and not blaming one another.

Impact of a Culture of Accountability

This model and process works, it’s memorable, and it’s scalable through an entire organization.

In a recent conversation with an SVP at a Fortune 100 Company he shared that he first saw this model in 1998, 22 years ago, and he has used it every day since. Imagine the impact that would come if you your entire organization aligned around this process and you created a Culture of Accountability.

Consider the journey of one of the largest medical device companies in the World as they worked to embrace and champion accountability. The company had experienced excellent sales growth, but significant industry changes, depressed market conditions and formidable competitors put them in a challenging position. Making matters worse, their customer satisfaction and employee engagement ratings were in serious decline.

The team easily could have been stuck blaming economic conditions, competitors or a host of other issues outside of their control.  They could have been victims of the change, or champions of the change. They decided to become champions of the change and move Above The Line, to See It, Own It, Solve It and Do It. They held SOSD meetings focused on Above The Line thinking and solutions. As management led the way, the rest of the company felt empowered to get on board and take accountability for making it happen. Within 8 months the company doubled sales, significantly improved their customer satisfaction and achieved record employee engagement ratings.

As you and your organization take The Steps to Accountability and create a Culture of Accountability it will be a significant competitive advantage that drives results now, and far into the future.

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