The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines accountability thusly:
...the quality or state of being accountable, liable or answerable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions <public officials lacking accountability>...
Not bad objectives for public institutions, but if you are a human being, specifically an employee, these are not terribly positive, empowering or motivating definitions. All of the responsibility devolves to them.
Perhaps that's why the "A" word has employees rolling their eyes, running for cover, or heading for the exit: many view accountability as just another modern, Newspeak business term for blaming, finger-pointing and butt-covering. Punishment, in other words.
For business leaders, accountability is a serious subject and rightly so. In order to grow, you must have not only the systems, but also the mentality that allows a culture of accountability to exist.
In their book, The Oz Principle, the authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman, define a culture of accountability that would be approved by the members of the Lollipop Guild:
The best kind of culture is a Culture of Accountability where people demonstrate high levels of ownership to think and act in the manner necessary to achieve organizational results. The defining characteristic of this kind of culture is that people voluntarily assume their own accountability. Rather than having accountability forced upon them, they enthusiastically take it upon themselves.In their follow up work, Journey to the Emerald City, Connors and Smith describe how to instill a culture of accountability, step by step:
- Define clear results
- Specify the actions needed to achieve the results
- Identify the beliefs that will produce these actions
- Create experiences that instill the right beliefs
S- Set Expectations
I - Invite Commitment
M - Measure Progress
P - Provide Feedback
L - Link to Consequences
E - Evaluate Effectiveness
However you choose to approach it, there are stark examples all around us that accountability can't be forced downward, it must be fostered from ground up. As the business owner, you do not want your people singing this lament: