Building Accountability into Your Culture: Does Your Team Have an Accountability Problem?

By Cathy McCullough

Accountability Assessment

dateMon, Jan 10, 2022 @ 11:00 AM

Most clients I’ve worked with say they understand the key role accountability plays in making a companyAccountability Assessment operate more efficiently (and therefore more effectively). They see the relevance of team accountability and its place in the bigger scheme of things. And the research backs up what they think. Performance cultures have higher levels of personal accountability and as a result, they also have higher levels of overall company performance, employees feel a higher level of commitment to their jobs, and employee morale is higher (U.S. Office of Personnel Management).

As leaders focus on defining their core business strategies, as they work to clarify the company’s longer-term vision, as they encourage innovative thinking and more, they dream of empowering their people to do the work that needs to be done to accomplish the company’s overall strategic intent. 

These same leaders (as well as 91% of leaders in a workplace study of accountability) say that building accountability into their company cultures is at the top of their wish list for running a better company. Yet, according to a Workplace Accountability Study, 82% of leaders said they have very little ability to hold people accountable. 

How do you know if you have an accountability problem? Below are a few tell-tale signs. Use the signs as an opportunity to assess your own company.  Some find it helpful to read our article with real world accountability examples prior to taking this assessment. 

Team Assessment Questions:

Download Accountability Assessment

Take out a piece of paper and for each item below, write down your ranking from 1-5.

From my perspective:

1 = This as a challenge for our company; it’s there but we don’t talk about it

2 = This is a somewhat of a challenge within our company; we recognize it, but we never really do anything about it

3 = This vacillates; it depends on the person and/or the situation

4 = Not a core problem, but I see this more than I might like

5 = Not a problem within our company; I don’t see this at all

1. Lack of Follow-Through

Leaders do a pretty good job of coming up with strategic goals for growth and defining what success looks like in terms of metrics. However, most strategic plans fail to reach full fruition due to the lack of accountability when it comes to following up on the actions it takes to make the initiatives happen. There’s no tracking along the way so that a team of leaders can see the progress being made. Weekly meetings evolve more around schedules and to do lists than real problem-solving. To what degree do you see lack of follow-through and less than strategic, robust weekly meetings?

My Ranking: ________ 

2. Flawed Leadership Practices

Recently an executive said to me, “We want to measure leadership effectiveness around here, but we don’t want to do 360’s because those can be a punch in the gut!” Every Executive Coaching client I’ve ever had has taken a 360 Assessment as a part of his/her Coaching and yes, the truth can hurt, which can indeed be a punch in the gut. However, strong leaders have to be able to handle the truth about the flaws in their leadership patterns. There’s no right or wrong; there’s only the truth. To be effective, leaders must understand what they do well and what they need to do differently from the vantage point of those around them, and from this information they need to identify actionable items that will leverage their strengths while also address their flaws. Perceptions matter—because it’s those perceptions that lead to behaviors and decision-making which, in turn, have an impact on overall productivity. If your leaders can’t handle the truth that a 360 will deliver, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see flawed leadership practices? 

My Ranking:­­­­ ________

3. There are few, if any, “Difficult Discussions”

It’s inevitable that leaders will have to have difficult performance conversations with some of their people. A top request I get is to work with leaders on how to have difficult discussion. These discussions are important, and they should center around building personal accountability. Leaders know they want this, but few know how to go about it effectively. In short, leaders must simply become proficient at having hard discussions that are meaningful and structured in a way that gives people a chance to perform at a higher level. The cost of not having these discussions in the right way is frustration, working around the ‘difficult’ or ‘lackluster’ employee (which wastes valuable time), duplication of effort, and loss of your best employees. So if your leaders avoid these types of difficult discussions (or if they have them but in the wrong way), you may have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see your company struggling with this?

My Ranking: ­­­­________

4. Lack of Clarity Around Expectations

Most people really do want to do a good job. But it’s also surprising how many employees don’t fully understand specifically what it is that you need them to do. Providing this clarity (along with what success looks like) is one way to alleviate this challenge. As a result, people make assumptions about what it is they should be doing. If leaders don’t take the time to fully provide clarification around roles and goals, then you may have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking:­­­­________

5. Leaders Don’t Have Ongoing Conversations with People

Leadership is about influence and connection (and leaders have limited positive influence if they don’t connect with their people). The best leaders understand the business importance of connecting with human emotions. Leaders simply must talk with their people as a top priority and make a habit of helping people see themselves as the valued assets they are. If it’s not a part of your core company culture to do this, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking:­­­­ ________ 

6. There’s Finger-Pointing

If something happens and you see people pointing the finger at other people, you may have an accountability problem. Multiple excuses and drama create a culture that focuses more on blame and gossip than accountability. To build accountability, leaders (and their people) should be asking questions such as: What was my role in this misunderstanding? Did I do something that led to this happening? What about my behaviors led him/her to react that way? If gossip, blame, finger-pointing, and/or constant excuses haunt your company, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking:­­­­________ 

7. Underperforming (or Difficult) Employees Get Moved Around

All of us have probably been in a company where we’ve seen underperformers moved from one seat to another. (How motivating was that for you?) In short: Stop doing that, as it’s rarely the answer. Move these people up to a higher performance level or move them out. If underperformers (or difficult people) get moved around, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking: ­­­­________

8. Compensation Plans Reward the Wrong Thing

So many times, compensation plans reward people across the board vs. rewarding people for both results and behaviors. Success for your company is when people get results in the right way. There’s a rampant epidemic of across the board bonuses (because it’s just easier), which means that even the jerks that everybody dislikes working with get the same rewards as those that are honoring your company’s Core Values. Behaviors matter. If your compensation structure doesn’t include behaviors, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking:­­­­ ________ 

9. People who’ve been with the company the longest get the promotion

This is a common occurrence in most companies. Person A has been there longer than Person B. Person B has the competencies, expertise, and leadership skills for the open position; however, Person A gets the promotion because s/he has been with the company longer than Person B. What this says is that tenure is more important than the right person for the job. If your company tends to promote on tenure, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking: _________

10. There’s a lack of discipline within our company culture

Without a defined list of Core Values that people are held accountable to, without a statement of Core Purpose, without definition around a short-term (or longer term) Vision, and without the identification of a specific Annual Plan that will get your company moving forward, then everyone simply defaults back to doing what they’ve always done in the way they’ve always done it. These are signs that there’s little to no discipline or focus. If there are gaps in your Core Values, Purpose, Vision, and/or Annual Plan, then you may well have an accountability problem. To what degree do you see this (or not) within your company?

My Ranking: ­­__________

Total Score: __________

Want to assess to your team?  Building accountability into your culture download our our team accountability assessment.


Score Your Building Accountability Assessment 

building accountability into your culture download

10-20 pts: You perceive your company to have a lack of accountability

Recommendation: Develop and train your leaders on how to build a performance culture using the right kind of accountability. Begin the journey now. Provide your executives and other leaders with the opportunity to create a roadmap for success around the expectation of personal accountability.

21-30 pts: You perceive your company to struggle with building personal accountability.

Recommendation: The positive intent is there, but collectively leaders seem to struggle with how to pull it all together in a way that solidifies a performance culture. Take the fear out of accountability by introducing your leaders to what performance cultures look like, and then provide them with the resources they need to begin growing the culture that thrives on the trust that accountability provides.

31-40 pts: You perceive there’s a bit of stagnation around building a performance culture.

Recommendation: In addition, you may be in a company culture where there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ Some people, for whatever reason, are favored over others, which can lead to a ‘hit and miss’ approach that falls short of a high-performance culture. This can equate to a culture of mediocrity. Build on the accountability you’ve managed to incorporate into your culture by providing your leaders with resources to expedite their success.

41-50 pts: Your perception is that you have a performance culture where the right kind of accountability is a top priority.

Recommendation: The company has clearly educated its leaders on how to be effective in leading people, employees know what’s expected of them, Core Values guide behaviors, the statement of Purpose is robust and an inspirational pivot point for all employees and everyone knows what’s expected of them. Review your assessment rankings and target the line items that fall below your expectations, and continue growing the positive performance culture you’ve worked so hard to attain.

Smart leaders reach out for resources because the right resources can accelerate what you’re trying to do. You also find an outside voice to help you champion your strategic endeavor. Resources offered by Rhythm Systems that can aid your journey toward a disciplined and accountable performance-based culture are:

Want to assess to your team?  Download our Team Accountability Assessment Template as a PDF file.

Book Your Free Consultation to Learn about Executive Coaching

Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:

How AI-Powered Software Can Help You Achieve High-Performance Culture

The Five C's of Team Accountability

Team Accountability Begins with Personal Accountability

Building Team Accountability: Job Scorecards

10 Signs of an Accountable Culture [Infographic]

Growing Accountability in Your Organization

Quick Tips for Building Accountability

5 Steps to Having an Accountability Discussion [Video]

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images  

Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images