Accountability is not about taking the blame when something goes wrong. Accountability is about delivering on commitments. It's taking initiative with follow-through, and assuming responsibility for an outcome (not just a set of tasks).
Accountability is necessary at all levels; i.e., executives can't be accountable unless the people who report to them also follow through on their commitments. It can be a struggle, and getting angry with people when they fall short is not a productive process for holding people accountable. It almost always reduces motivation and performance.
So what can you do to foster accountability in the people around you? Here are five areas:
Clear expectations. The first step is to be crystal clear about what you expect; i.e., the outcome, how you'll measure success, and how people should go about achieving the objective.
Clear capability. What skills and resources does the person need to meet the expectations? If the person does not have what's necessary, can they acquire what's missing? If so, what's the plan? Don't set people up to fail if they don't have what it takes.
Clear measurement. Nothing frustrates more than being surprised by failure. Sometimes it's because the person who should be delivering is afraid to ask for help. Sometimes it comes from premature optimism on both sides. Either way, it's completely avoidable.
Clear feedback. Honest, open, ongoing feedback is critical. People should know where they stand.
Clear consequences. If you've been clear in all of the above ways, you can be reasonably sure that you did what's necessary to support their performance. At this point, you have three choices: repeat, reward, or release.
These are the building blocks for a culture of accountability. The magic is in the way they work together as a system.
Inspired by: Harvard Business Review - The Right Way to Hold People Accountable, by Peter Bregman