How to create a culture of accountability – Part One

19 February 2018

‘Accountability’ is a big, heavy word. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s used as a measure of proactivity, productivity and manageability. It’s probably safe to say that every company that has a culture of accountability will continue performing and/or improving, even in challenging times.

Conversely, stagnation, finger-pointing and under-performance are characteristic of firms where this culture does not exist.

The question that business leaders often ask is: How can we create this culture of accountability in our company? There are two major parts to this question, and each one plays a large role in answering it.


It is only fair for a person to be accountable for an outcome if three things are in place:

  • The Target
  • The Measurements, and
  • The Opportunity

If you want to see the level of accountability increase in your business, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

Step One:

Besides the CEO of the company, no one person is responsible for the performance of the entire firm. Therefore, targets should be split down to the lowest level of responsibility – but not further. Each person must have his/her individual outcomes made clear, discussed and agreed upon even before they join the team. If the individual and their manager have different expectations for the outcome, it is unlikely that the managers’ goals will be achieved.

Action point – ensure every department and every individual is aware of their targets (not just the sales teams). If everyone is pushing in the same direction, chances of success are much better.


Step Two:

The metrics for measuring outcomes need to be correct. Metrics – also referred to as KPIs – need to be quantitative and outcome-based. They are the numbers which tell the story of how the business is doing. If these numbers are reported on time and analysed correctly, warning signs can be picked up early enough to make important changes before any damage is caused.

Action point – every individual should have KPIs reflecting their targets. These should be analysed frequently, so as to rectify any issues early.

Step Three:

KPIs assign responsibility, which is why it is crucial to understand where one teams’ responsibility ends and another teams’ begins. Marketing creates leads, which the sales team converts. Only then can operations service the customer. KPIs around the number of deliveries has to be tied to sales numbers, else the Ops team will fall short on something outside their control. Each person and every team needs to have the opportunity to deliver, else the measurement is both incorrect and unfair.

Action point – sit teams down and help them understand how the actions of one affect the other. Design and execution often live in different worlds, and finance is usually on a planet of their own.

If accountability was just a case of setting metrics and reporting KPIs, it would be relatively easy. Given that almost every company I’ve worked with (from five-people start-ups to 450-staffed organisations) didn’t have this in place, it is safe to assume that the exercise is a lot harder than it seems. And yet, even the setting of KPIs is not quite the answer.

There is a process around setting KPIs. But the culture element, that is a whole new challenge. Culture is not a process, nor is it contained in employee handbooks. It is a living, dynamic entity, and affects the entire company – both positively and negatively. If there are noticeable ‘cliques’ in social settings – that is a culture. If managers come late and have reserved parking spots outside – that is a culture. If every time someone goes to make a cup of coffee asks the team if they’d like one too – that is a culture.

In next week’s post, we’re going to look at the fundamentals of how to ingrain accountability into your organisation’s culture.