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by Sreekumar Vadakkeppat Share via -

How to create an Accountability Culture in Organizations? 

(Excerpt from the upcoming book “No Business Fails!”)

When time comes for organizational performance and results, many CEOs deal with one major challenge; “how to make them (employees including top management) accountable?”  Employees’ performance is directly related to the degree to which they are responsible for their work and moreover accountable to the outcome of their work.

Employee being accountable is the outcome of creating an accountability culture in organization.  It is poignant to note that people rarely talk about accountability when everything goes fine.  But the scene changes when it turns to a difficult path.  Through well thought and properly designed and dedicated approaches, such culture can be built in any organization.  Successful CEOs make every employee to be held accountable for his or her actions and at the same time without damaging the ‘organizational energy’.  They use the tools to make everybody accountable! They know thataccountability is the zip that zips up one’s promise to results! 

However, one of the major concerns of Top Management is making the employees accountable.  If employees were taken into account they might get disempowered and might lead to underperformed employees and if not, it would anyway impact the performance adversely.  In either case it impacts the performance and the results.  So, it is a difficult task for many.  

According to a Harvard Business Review (November 8, 2012) one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability!  

Although several studies confirm the importance of having highly engaged workforce, a staggering 75% of leaders have no accountability plan or strategy in place.  Yet 90% of those leaders say accountability directly impacts their business’ success.  (ACCOR) 

The major impact of lack of accountability culture is that it would create a dangerous epidemic called “leader dependent” for every action and decision.  Such leaders are always stressful.  Their days are always fully packed and time management would go for a toss!  They have pressure while others have pleasure! 

Yes! It is time to understand more about accountability and how to create a culture of accountability in organizations! 


Before looking at the system and process of creating accountability culture, it is prudent to understand what we mean by accountability.  Accountability is often skewed negatively while defining and understanding.  Look at few definitions and meanings of ‘accountability’;

According to Davis, “Responsibility is an obligation of individual to perform assigned duties to the best of his ability under the direction of his executive leader”.

According to Mc Farland, “accountability is the obligation of an individual to report formally to his superior about the work he has done to discharge the responsibility.” 

Webster's defines "accountable" as "Subject to having to report, explain or justify; being answerable, responsible."  

As per the ‘Glossary of Statistical Terms’, Accountability (in management theory) is “a key concept in modern management theory and practice. It means that managers are held responsible for carrying out a defined set of duties or tasks, and for conforming with rules and standards applicable to their posts”. 

As per Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries it is “the fact of being responsible for your decisions or actions and expected to explain them when you are asked”.

According to Cambridge Dictionaries it is “Someone who is accountable is completely responsible for what they do and must be able to give a satisfactory reason for it.” 

In another, it means ‘capable being explained’ or ‘required or expected to justify actions or decisions’ or the like. 

If you go by the common understanding of accountability, we know that it is state of being accountable, liable or answerable. 

But, all such definitions and meanings give an understanding of the term that is inadequate to build accountability amongst employees in organizations. 


Now what is the remedy?  Before getting into that let us distinguish ‘what is accountability?’  To understand that we need to see what it is not? 

Accountability is NOT;

  • Responsibility

  • Demanding

  • Questioning

  • Being sincere and loyal

  • Giving explanations, reasons and justifications

  • Communicating by shouting or raising voice



Then, what is accountability?  If you split the word, you get two words, ‘account’ and ‘ability’.   It isthe ability to give account.   Who would be able to give account then?   As you know only those who perform a task can give the account.  Only those who are in action have the ability to give account.  Moreover, every action has intended results too.  Eventually, the leader is liable for the results than the action.  When the outcome of actions cannot produce the intended results, the leader has to face the consequences.  So, the most appropriate definition could be “a choice to give account for the action in accomplishing the intended results”.  Creating such choices in an organizational environment is critical.

However, by design or practice, many of us are not accountable.  That means, we do not like being accountable and do not want to be accountable too.  In this scenario, it is a herculean task to bring in an accountability culture amongst employees. 

The strategies to bring forth accountability in an organization are; 


Accountability is a culture.  It is to be created.  It needs to be tailor made.  Expecting employees demonstrating being accountable will be soon an unfulfilled expectation.  It is a process by itself and not an end.  It is better to create the culture from the starting point.  However, many organizations doesn’t have that culture, has to start somewhere.  Never late than now!  


According to me, the rule is ‘The way you are; the way they are!’  

As per a survey result appeared in CIPD, “only 5% of UK employees get an apology from their boss if he or she makes a mistake, yet 60% of managers claimed to always say sorry. ……. Almost half (49 per cent) of managers and 24 per cent of employees believe that acknowledging personal mistakes is one of the key things leaders can do to inspire trust, while ‘being able to trust your boss’ is very important for 93 per cent of the employees”. 

Accept that, as a part of the Top Management Team (including CEO), “I have no accountability”.  Until the Top Management accept so and say that “I am willing to be accountable and also willing to do what is required to bring forth accountability culture in the organization”, it is difficult to create the accountability culture. 


The future is more powerful than the past and present.  Find out what people need to win their personal and organizational games.  Leaders’ supports are critical to remove the barricade of poor performance.  It doesn’t mean ‘giving solution to a problem’.  Asking a team member to support another is also a support!  Leading and guiding the team to create a powerful system is also a support.  Each team member need to have their goal defined specifically with time frame and designed a Master Plan to fulfill that.  Creating a Master Plan is an activity starting with activating your right brain and come out with well defined outcomes that would enable you to achieve your goals.  Every leader is a people oriented person and hence supporting every team member to win is a major role to play.  As a CEO, it is your responsibility to empower the management team to create leadership pathways and potential opportunities for growth.  No future means no motivation and no existence itself!  Last but not the least; never forget to reward the achievers.  The reward may be in any form such as, award, celebration, get-together, promotion etc. 


It is difficult to deal with employees’ nature of blaming other people.  But, the propensity to blame others is human.  Any resistance to that would make one’s life all the more difficult!  There are three common games which people would play in an organization.  They are Blame Game, Reason Game, and Justification Game.  Blaming others and giving reasons and justifications for not getting the work done will not serve anybody to reach organizational goal.  It is the Shame Game.  The Shame Game will not create an accountability culture.  What one need to realize is that ‘shame game’ a function of ‘not being accountable’ and there is pressure among people. 

In contrast, the world of accountability gives lot of room for choice to accomplish organizational goals.   Transparency and authenticity create a culture of accountability.  Transparency in each and every dealing, actions and authenticity in communication amongst employees is vital for creating an accountability culture.  Transparency in work, information, activities, reports and decision makings are necessary to create the culture.  Continuous training, coaching and mentoring are required to bring forth this quality amongst the people.  People need to show up the courage to be straight with themselves and others.  When one is straight with oneself, the attitude will be “I am the problem, I am accountable and I am the solution!”  Being straight with self and others is not ordinary.  But one needs to be just ordinary to be extra ordinary!  It is the Fame Game. 


When there is a community there is no blame and giving reasons and justifications for not producing results.  Rather, it will be dealt with in advance and every community member knows what is happening, what they are supposed to do and are ready to do anything for the community.  Being accountable is a natural occurrence in communities.  Here community includes all, from the Security to the CEO.  However, creating a community is not easy, but simple.  

Having teams is inadequate to have a culture of accountability!  Is any organization having only one team?  No way!  A team by definition is to have a common goal and working towards the common goal as a team.  But the flaw of a team in an organizational culture is that it naturally creates departmentalization and the game (working towards the organizational goal) unknowingly become all about winning the departmental game.  

What differentiate the community from team?  What is in a community that is different from a team such that we can create a community?  In my experience, I have seen that what is in a community is a common belief.  Both community and team have group of people.  Because there is a common belief in a community, it is stronger than a team.  In a team there is only a common goal but different beliefs.  Having a common belief system is a must to create a community. 


Your reasons would encourage others to give you reasons in order to substantiate their stand.  You need to stop giving any reasons or excuses to your own subordinates.  Shift the focus from reasons to results.  Allow them to speak more about the ways and means of producing results.

Defining result is an important activity to create an accountability culture.  Any action that doesn’t give intended results is an unwanted action.  The work needs to be continued until the result is achieved.  For this, the focus has to be on result.  The conversation and communication has to be about result.  If you are not getting what you want it just means that you haven’t shifted your focus on that.  It means that, your focus is towards an unwanted target.  I have seen that focus on result keep the emotional factor in control and it paves the way to achieve results.  Absence of an accountability culture results in not meeting the organization goals and objectives.  Instead of just getting the work done, each team member has to focus on achieving the results.  What needs to be taken care is you are not fixed on the result but are flexible with the processes and committed to the purpose of having the result.  To be more precise focus on those processes that leads to the intended results without taking your focus away from the purpose of it.  Such focused activities create the accountability culture in the organization. 


Any successful CEO is accountable to its stakeholders.  They are not being answerable but being accountable.  Such quality invites him/her to be proactive and reactive to major activities and decision making processes and the top level decisions.  Such CEOs cleverly engage the key stakeholders in the process of major decision and policy making processes.  They resort to consultation with the key stakeholders when required. 



Without accountability achieving results is tiresome job.  Creating agreement and alignment to produce results is a prerequisite to achieve results.  Accountability tools facilitate to build such agreement and alignment.  Accountability is an outcome of measuring the performance.  As Peter Drucker says “what gets measured gets managed.”   The data, tests, charts, assessments, evaluations, and metrics are to be used and periodical interpretation and corrective action plans on time are critical for performance enhancement.  If no measurability, no accountability!  In other words, the performance needs to be captured in terms of quantity and time. Capturing performance is an important activity to bring in the accountability culture in any working environment.   So, it is not a once-for-all activity, rather it is a process to create a culture itself.  Depending on what the organization is going through it would tell an experienced and intuitive CEO on “What to do next?” 


The tool that I have witnessed being effective is by using the “Performance Register”.  All the accountability factors need to be clearly embedded in the format.  Customization is the key here!  It needs to be designed depending on the nature of the organization, its critical tasks and the processes involved.  Such register bring in clarity of roles and responsibility amongst employees at all levels.  Then, you will soon see that there is accountability amongst employees too! 


The daily and weekly meetings have to be conducted by going through the Performance Register.  This would enable the Leader / Manager to be focused on the point and avoid unwanted conversations.  Make the Performance Register customized for your organization so that the focus will be on organizational goals. 


Review Report is another tool that can be used to create the accountability culture.  It is an offshoot of the Performance Register. Review Reports are to be used in the Review Meetings.  Review meetings are to be conducted monthly, quarterly, half yearly and annually.  Review Reports are to be prepared well in advance the Review Meetings, at least a week in advance.  Similar to Performance Register, it needs to be customized to create the accountability culture within the Management Team.  Needless to say, the design is the key. 


Quality management system like ISO 9000 and various other such Systems and Certifications can be used as a tool to activate and create a culture of accountability. It has been rarely viewed as a tool to create the accountability culture.  However, such systems and certifications are to be considered as performance tools as it would fillip the accountability culture in organizations.  However, if it is followed for only certification purpose, it would not only give any fruit but also encounter difficulties in implementation and further maintenance. 

Another major drawback in few organizations is lack of proper guidelines.  Guidelines are to be written and circulated amongst all concerned.  Guidelines are written with the intention of reaching the organizational vision, mission, values, goals and objectives.  So, without guidelines nobody gets guided towards the organizational goals and objectives.

There is lot more to write regarding creating an accountability culture and few effective tools to maintain that culture.  However, what is most important is being in action to create an accountability culture and implementing the tools so as to develop a culture of accountability in your organization.  Hope this would help leaders to create an accountability culture in organizations.  Sooner the better!

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