Build a Culture of Accountability: A 4-Step Strategy for L&D

Hi, fellow L&D aficionados. My name is Lee, and I am accountable. If that sounds as if you’ve stumbled into a talent developer’s self-help program just in time for introductions, that may, in a sense, be the case.

“I am accountable” is a statement I make with satisfaction, pride, and a sense of strength and accomplishment. Maybe because it took a while to get here. It’s also one that many learning professionals would like to hear more often in their organizations.  (If you're one of them, be sure to read the 4 L&D Strategies for Building a Culture of Accountability listed below.)

For years, and like many people, I associated accountable with negatives—blame, mostly. Scapegoat, fault, taking the rap. In essence: poor chump couldn’t duck fast enough to avoid the bullet. And we all know there are plenty of bullets in the business world. In our personal lives, too.

So what makes someone do a 360-degree pivot from bullet-ducker to proudly accountable?

For me, it was a combination of factors. I grew up in a family where responsibility was modeled and encouraged. From a young age I understood what it meant to be held accountable for my actions. And I behaved accordingly (most of the time, anyway). But it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that  I fully recognized and embraced the true gifts accountability bestows: peace of mind, a sense of control and assurance, freedom. In short, personal and professional power.

Building a Powerful Bridge

Brian Tracy is the guy I thank for that insight. He’s a skilled author, speaker, and trainer—from sales and leadership to personal development. I’d gone to a workshop where I purchased one of his recorded programs. “I am responsible,” he declared in a module on accepting accountability and taking charge. He talked about blame, worry, and guilt. Ultimately, he talked about rejecting blame, worry, and guilt; about taking control and thinking and behaving like a successful person. Accepting accountability.

Brian’s words built the bridge between my family-instilled values and the realization that accountability defined the way I wanted to conduct myself at work and in my personal life. They gave me a broader picture of the results being accountable can produce. Occasionally, I can still be caught muttering “I am responsible; I am accountable” if the going gets dicey on a project. But it’s just my way of affirming what I believe, of evoking the power accountability affords.

Accountability by the Numbers

The widely quoted Workplace Accountability Study by Partners in Leadership featured 40,000 respondents across multiple industries. Some key highlights:

  • 82% of people report having no ability to hold others accountable in the workplace
  • 1/3 of people regard deadlines as commitments
  • 3/4 of people avoid solving problems, viewing them as others' responsibilities
  • 91% of people say accountability is a top development need in their organization

Accountability in the Workplace - Taking Control and Producing Better Results

When employees bring accountability to work, it quickly becomes apparent that successful outcomes are more likely—for individuals and organizations, alike. The sense of control that accountability instills can change the way people approach their work. How? By enabling them to take charge, to manage workloads and workflows more effectively by saying no when necessary, and by insisting on realistic deadlines.

Accountability in the workplace means speaking up if directions are unclear. That reduces mistakes and the need for time-consuming do-overs. When you accept accountability, you refuse to become a victim if others try to sidestep their responsibilities. Keeping the focus on the tasks to be done, ensuring that everyone understands expectations, and then holding all team members accountable for their performance is fair, professional, and keeps projects moving forward. It’s empowering and motivating for all.

Sound good? It is good. Having employees who are accountable contributes to organizations and the results they produce in multiple ways. The U.S. Government’s Office of Personnel Management offers this list of potential benefits for organizations:

  • Improved performance
  • More employee participation and involvement
  • Increased feelings of competency
  • Increased employee commitment to the work
  • More creativity and innovation
  • Higher employee morale and satisfaction with the work

Your organization may find other ways to gain when leaders and employees embrace accountability as a positive and valuable skill. When accountability is a consistent expectation organization-wide, engagement, teamwork, and trust are the likely—and powerful—results.

Most importantly, consistent accountability breeds a learning culture. How? By enabling people to try new things, to make mistakes without being penalized. When setbacks happen, individuals who take accountability for their work make it a point to learn from those issues.

Share the Power: 4 L&D Strategies for Building a Culture of Accountability

Accountability in the workplace, as in life, takes commitment. People need to understand how accountability empowers them individually, and how it improves the work environment for everyone. That kind of empowerment and improvement happens when accountability becomes more than a nice-to-have in the workplace, they happen when it becomes a part of the organizational culture—a way of life.

Leaders at the executive—and every other—level must be at the forefront when it comes to accepting and modeling accountability every day. There is no passing the buck or assigning blame. No executive privilege. The accountability commitment starts at the top and permeates every part of the organization.

Because training is critical, learning and development functions’ whole-hearted involvement is a must in building and maintaining a culture of accountability. It’s about enabling success—arming people with the knowledge, resources, environment, and authority they need to take ownership of their work and drive positive results. For L&D, that begins with a four-step strategy: educate, advocate, demonstrate, and celebrate.

1. Educate

  • Teach employees and leaders about accountability as part of L&D’s ongoing training in soft skills. Video-based training can be an especially effective means of showing people what accountability looks like in workplace scenarios and interactions.
  • Recognize that some people may need to be desensitized if they’ve thought of accountability as a negative. Banish the blame game by instilling the positive benefits of accountability.
  • When educating leaders about accountability, include research that shows the workplace and bottom-line results a culture of accountability can affect—be prepared to make the business case.

2. Advocate

  • Urge organizational leaders to make accountability a formal organizational value if it isn’t already.
  • Show-and-tell can be a powerful tool. Enlist respected leaders and influencers to heighten awareness of accountability by consistently talking about it in both formal and informal settings.

3. Demonstrate

  • Teach goal-setting to create processes that embed accountability, beginning with clarity. In your organization’s soft skills training, include instruction in setting clear, realistic, measurable, attainable goals. Clear expectations are the foundation of accountability.
  • Teach delegation to ensure that leaders at all levels don’t just assign projects and responsibility, but also provide employees with the information, resources, and—especially—the authority needed to accomplish their objectives.
  • Teach management skills that emphasize follow-through. Leaders enable accountability by regularly checking-in after assignments are made, monitoring progress on projects, providing any needed help or support, and by offering reinforcement and praise for employees whose behavior reflects their accountability.
  • Teach performance management skills so managers understand how to include accountability in their ongoing efforts to develop their employees. Use of such performance management tools as personal development plans provides a framework for regular conversations about accountability.

4. Celebrate

  • Make the results of accountability visible. Use all available organizational communication channels to tell success stories and to show how accountability is driving better results, for individuals and the company. 
  • Enlist leaders to include accountability in their visions of organizational success and in their conversations with employees. 
  • Encourage talent leaders to find ways to reward exceptional examples of accountability in the workplace.

In leading the drive, L&D practitioners must understand that success in building a culture of accountability takes time and practice. Most importantly, consistent enforcement is non-negotiable. A culture of accountability requires an all-or-none approach. Regardless of level or job, everyone in the organization must be held to their promises.

Media Partners - Your Partner for Training on Accountability (and Other Soft Skills)

For years, Media Partners has been an innovative and trusted resource for learning and development professionals seeking engaging training products that address soft skills, including accountability. When you’re accountable for providing training that produces tangible results and bases learning content on relatable, real-world workplace challenges and successes, your Media Partners learning consultant can suggest the ideal intervention. Call us today: 800-408-5657 or preview our products online.

For more information on soft skills, including a Soft Skills Quick Reference Tool for Managers, download your free Media Partners eBook: The Sad State of Soft Skills and How L&D Can Fix It.

To build your culture of accountability, we suggest the following titles to help L&D educate, advocate, demonstrate, and celebrate.
Accountability That Works!
Can We Count on You? Why Accountability Matters
Communication Counts: Speaking and Listening for Results