Almost every leader has been there. One
minute you’re living the company values,
and the next you’re making an exception—
for yourself. Perhaps you have an official
policy of being super-responsive, but when
an especially problematic client calls, you
avoid him for a day or two. Or despite a
stated commitment to respectful communication, you lose it and shout at Margaret in
sales when she falls short of her quarterly
goal once again. Or you have a no-excuses
policy on deadlines, but when you personally miss one, you just finesse the client
into giving an extension.
Sure, we all make mistakes. But if
you’re not holding yourself accountable to
the values you say are important, don’t be
surprised when your bad behavior starts
to trickle down and ultimately impacts the
company’s bottom line.
Company leaders should be aware of
the “as above, so below” phenomenon:
the concept in which employees mirror the
behaviors of the successful leaders they
see above them. The rationale is simple:
If they get ahead by behaving that way,
then that’s what I’ll do. That’s great when
leaders are acting with accountability, but
it becomes a big problem when leaders
don’t make accountability a priority.
To be successful, a company’s leaders
must apply the relentless focus and commit-
ment necessary to build the required
culture and must serve as role models for
the required behaviors. In the end, the
establishment of a culture is all about how
leaders behave and what behaviors they
reward and discourage. Read on to learn
the four critical actions leaders must take
in order to create a winning culture.
No. 1—Hold yourself accountable.
One example is Sir Alex Ferguson, the
long-time coach of the Manchester United
soccer club, who held everyone, including
himself, accountable to the credo, “The
club is more important than any individual.” No matter how skilled or important they were, if a player didn’t follow that
rule, they were let go. And remember, you
must hold yourself accountable to at least
the same level of expectation you have for
your employees. A rule applies to everyone
or it applies to no one.
No. 2—Spell out expectations to
Without clear expectations, there’s no way
to hold someone accountable. You must
make sure that each employee has a clear
understanding of what is expected of them
in the job he or she performs.
No. 3—Know when to nourish
Of his time at General Electric, Jack Welch
once said, “My main job was developing
talent. I was a gardener providing water
and other nourishment to our 750 people.
Of course, I had to pull out some weeds,
too.” It’s clear that Welch had a standard
for his employees, and anyone who didn’t
meet that standard would suffer the
Holding people accountable isn’t easy.
You have to tell your employees the truth.
You can’t do this without having conversations with people about what they
are doing well and where they need to
improve. This is where the accountability
process breaks down most often.
No. 4—Hone the art of instant
For feedback to be productive, it must be
shared regularly and without delay. Make
sure feedback is specific, focusing on the
particular issue or behavior in question. If a
leader will focus on what the person actually said or did—the facts and nothing but
the facts—without labeling the employee
or the action, the employee will be more
likely to hear and heed the feedback.
You can also use the S.I.S. Feedback
Model. It is a straightforward and objective process in which you first describe
the situation, then explain the impact it
had, and then suggest ways to stop (or
continue) the behavior.
In order to establish a culture of
accountability, there can be no double
standard. Leaders and employees must
follow the same set of rules; otherwise
the whole system breaks down. The good
news is that when leaders commit to
role modeling the right behaviors, their
employees will follow.
Julie Miller and Brian Bedford are coauthors
of Culture Without Accountability—WTF:
What’s the Fix? In 2001, drawing on their
respective years of experience in senior
global leadership at Motorola, they joined
forces to establish MillerBedford Executive
Solutions. For more information, visit
Four Critical Actions to Build a Culture
Of Accountability in 2014
BY JULIE MILLER AND BRIAN BEDFORD
To be successful, a company’s
leaders must apply the
relentless focus and
commitment necessary to
build the required culture and
must serve as role models for
the required behaviors.