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How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Company

Accountability can have a wide range of positive impacts on organizations — from increased employee commitment to better morale to improved performance. Despite this, many companies and leaders have not fully integrated accountability into their cultures.

The average human being spends about two and a half hours per day in drama, according to research from Reality-Based Leadership, a leadership training and employee development firm founded by New York Times bestselling author and thought leader Cy Wakeman. Drama, according to the company, is defined as any disruptive behavior or thought pattern that really takes away from results.

“A simpler way to define it is we look at drama as waste in the workplace — but it's not typical waste you see, like in manufacturing. It's mental and emotional waste,” says Alex Dorr, VP of People Evolution at Reality-Based Leadership.

Dorr says reallocating all that wasted time and energy from drama to business operations that actually matter can have a dramatic impact on your company. Here’s how leaders can better recognize the sources of drama in their organizations, then use simple mental techniques to get people back on track.

Encourage Self-Reflection

Dorr says the first thing to understand is that ego behaviors are the biggest source of drama in the workplace because ego keeps us from accountability.

“Ego is judgey, gossipy, tattling, venting, scorekeeping,” says Dorr. While ego is a universal human condition and can give us necessary confidence at times, he says it also serves as our filter on reality, often bending and distorting what we experience and take in. “It’s this part of our brain that is the judger of all things, the creator of all stories,” he says.

Dorr says one of the ego’s favorite ways to stay alive is through venting — a behavior that leaders often entertain because they went to stay approachable. In reality, venting is the ego’s way of avoiding self-reflection, Dorr says. “Self-reflection is the foundational gateway to accountability, and accountability is a kind of death of the ego,” he says.

Another way for leaders to help employees get beyond the ego, particularly when it comes to venting, is to ask a more constructive coaching question like, “What would great look like?” or “What could you do to help?,” Dorr suggests. “It gets someone out of venting and into the better part of her brain,” he says.

Make Buy-In Mandatory

When Reality-Based Leadership asked successful leaders what it takes to live in a high state of accountability, most started with the idea of buy-in, Dorr says. This was often expressed as a commitment to do whatever it takes to get the results they were seeking as long as it was not illegal or unethical.

However, Dorr says too many companies have made buy-in optional. He says while organizations should incorporate collaboration and feedback, when a decision is made on a strategy or direction, team members need to buy-in and fully support the plan to the best of their abilities.

“There's no such thing as a third option when it comes to commitment,” he says. “When it comes to buy-in, you either stay in joy or you leave at peace. Both are peaceful.” Instead, companies often allow employees to reach an unaccountable place of hate and sabotage that brings everyone down, he says.

Dorr says leaders can't force someone to buy in, but they can ask questions to facilitate a better choice to either buy in or leave in peace. Examples include, “What's your plan to get on board or what's your level of willingness to deliver on this strategy?”

“If someone says, ‘I'm not willing,’ that’s game over,’” he says. “You can’t work with the unwilling.”

Encourage Healthy Attitudes About Resilience

Once someone is all in, Dorr says, the next most important factor for accountability is resilience, which is the ability to stay the course in the face of obstacles and setbacks. But resilience isn’t about powering through challenges on your own, Dorr points out.

Resilient people in today's world have the largest network of positive relationships, Reality-Based Leadership’s research found. They have plenty of good contacts on social media, on LinkedIn or in their professional networks — and they actually asked for help early and often. “If they get stuck, they don't rely on themselves to be the hero,” Dorr says.

Ownership — the ability to admit how they helped or hindered a project — is another key factor in cultivating accountability, he says. Finally, successful leaders cited their willingness to continually learn from experiences, whether they are positive or negative, as a key element of accountability. “They could start to see their success or failure as fuel for future success — and they could commit to bigger things,” he says.

Stephen Loy