Creating an accountability culture is an inside job.
By Leslie Jones, with Jennifer Wageman and Lauren Basler
“It’s not my job.” “The sales team dropped the ball.” “That’s outside of my department.”
If you’ve heard these excuses in your workplace, you may be among the majority of business leaders who struggle with accountability.
Research shows that 82% of managers acknowledge they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully, according to a recent article in Harvard Business Review. Eighty-two percent! On the flip side, 91% of employees would say that “effectively holding others accountable” is one of their company’s top leadership- development needs.
Why is accountability such a problem? And —more importantly — what can you do about it?
First, let’s level-set on what exactly “accountability” is and is not.
Most people think of accountability as calling out someone when they haven’t done what they said they’d do. And yes, accountability does have a lot to do with responsibly and follow-through. But to develop a truly effective workplace, organizations have to push beyond this stereotype and look at accountability in a more holistic manner. As it turns out, at the root of every Teflon-plated team member who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions is a deep-seated fear.
“Addressing accountability is like peeling back layers of an onion,” says Jennifer Wageman, COO and CFO at Kanso Software. “You have to go deep. We’ve found that at the root of any accountability dilemma is an issue called ‘imposter syndrome.’ You have to spend time identifying these secret identities or masks that team members hide behind, such as, ‘I’m not good enough.’”
These masks not only create a façade for individuals to deflect fault, they also keep us from showing up as our true, authentic selves — and this is the real issue. Individuals have to have accountability to themselves before they can have accountability to their team or organization.
Jennifer and her fellow SpiralMethod facilitators discovered this phenomenon as they participated in a 12-month facilitator program that supports those who’ve trained as SpiralMethod facilitators as they apply SpiralMethod principles to their workplace dynamics. During this program, they address the multitude of layers around human interaction, team dynamics and effective facilitation such they have a keen awareness and skillset to cultivate a culture of true accountability, increasing efficiency, connection and results in their cultures.
Research confirms how lack of accountability systems make employees feel insignificant. Gallup found that only 14% of employees feel their performance is managed in a way that motives them, 26% get feedback less than once per year, 21% feel their performance metrics are within their control, and 40% feel as if their manager holds them accountable for goals they set. Add to that the fact that 70% of employees feel their managers aren’t objective in how they evaluate their performance, and it comes as no surprise that 69% of employees don’t feel they’re living up to their potential at work.
The irony is that when leaders are not accountable to their teams — setting standards for giving constructive feedback, consistently measuring performance, and rewarding them when they meet or exceed goals — they are encouraging lack of accountability in their team members.
Leaders have to look at themselves first. If they are not being accountable to themselves or their teams, it’s time to clean that up and become aware of what prevented them from following through. That type of honesty leads the way to vulnerability, which opens the door to model accountability to their teams.
For AirDNA’s Chief of Staff, Lauren Basler, SpiralMethod provided a framework and straightforward easy to follow structure that allowed her to set in motion a culture of accountability — starting with admitting to her own vulnerability.
“My secret identity is that ‘I’m not good enough and that I let people down’ so I’ve developed the mask of being responsible for everything,I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m responsible for everything which leads to a burned out, stressed, and crazy version of myself and Crazy Lauren,” she says. “It’s empowering to have a practice that’s so rooted in conscious intention and that embraces everyone in our organization. Through this practice, I’m helping unlock the unlocking collective wisdom that helps make our teams more successful.”
In SpiralMethod facilitation training, Lauren discovered why we can’t hide behind our secret identities and be accountable at the same time. When we lack accountability, ego and righteousness often come to the fore. We’re become blind to our own inadequacies and look outside ourselves to try to get someone else to change in order to solve the problem. Or we avoid bringing problems to the surface and hope for a détente among our colleagues. In other words: “You don’t call me out on mine, and I won’t call you on yours!”
But within an accountability culture, we can have a bigger impact on the whole system rather than just trying to “fix” one person’s behavior. As humans there’s always going to be mistakes, so how do we create a culture for addressing these errors?
Here’s a great example.
A new employee at Kanso didn’t have the best onboarding experience and struggled to fit in with the team. It was easy for her to point a finger and find fault in management and other team members, but she couldn’t see her part. Using SpiralMethod’s practices, Jennifer encouraged a healthy dialogue with her and compassionately and effectively made her aware of her defensiveness. Then she proposed a shift to focus from the problems of the past to what could be changed moving forward. The new employee gave her permission to be privately called out when her defensiveness surfaced. At the same time, Jennifer gave her permission to call her out when she came across as gruff or less than empathetic. With explicit permission to address the problem, the new employee and Jennifer quickly moved beyond their challenges. They created an authentic and powerful partnership that rippled out to the rest of the team as well.
“It was a relief to talk about it,” Jenn says. “We’ve intentionally worked hard to create this culture so we can have these conversations. We created a safe space and witnessed each other share so much. Our team members crave these discussions. There’s no longer a lack of accountability because it starts from the top.”
Discover how your organization can benefit from embracing a culture of accountability and authenticity. Sign up today for our next Facilitator Certification training, starting November 10, 2022.