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Four steps to build a culture of accountability, ownership

In a company where a culture of accountability and ownership flourishes, employees are personally committed to achieving results.

Swapnil Kamat        Last Updated: February 10, 2015  | 11:06 IST

Swapnil Kamat
In this highly competitive age, businesses can no longer afford employees who simply rent a spot on their organisation charts. To thrive, they need on the oars people who can think like partners - people who don't just do their work but strive to achieve results. On their part, firms must create a climate of responsibility and proprietorship within their organisations to inspire and encourage employees to own their work. Swapnil Kamat, Founder, CEO and Chief Trainer at Work Better, explains a four-step approach based on Roger Connor and Tom Smith's The Oz Principle that can help leaders and entrepreneurs build a culture of accountability and ownership in their organisations.

In a company where a culture of accountability and ownership flourishes, employees are personally committed to achieving results. They understand their jobs, know their role within the organisation, and willingly assume responsibilities. They neither play blame games nor wait for someone else to troubleshoot problems. Instead, they proactively develop solutions, overcome obstacles and measure their own progress.

A culture of accountability and ownership allows businesses to reach optimal employee productivity levels, satisfy customers, and meet shareholders' performance expectations. So, how do we create and sustain such a culture? It is not uncommon for people to be misled into thinking that using tools such as performance metrics, comparative benchmarks, and quantitative assessments will solve the problem. However, in reality, these performance review tools end up being used to conduct mechanical annual appraisals that often seek to shame workers. To create higher levels of accountability and ownership in your organisation, you need to facilitate a radical shift in the way people think and act. It involves a process of seeing, owning, solving, and doing. Let's look at each of these four steps in detail.


This step requires you to recognise the full reality of a situation. Outline your ideal future state and identify the critical gaps or areas or improvement to reach that state. To identify steps for improvement and prioritise issues, talk to different people within and outside your organisation and try to get multiple perspectives. Next, set justifiable company-wide goals. One popular criteria that you can use for goal-setting is the S.M.A.R.T. technique. The mnemonic acronym SMART stands for:


Let people know exactly what's expected of them with no room for misinterpretation. Clarify what needs to be accomplished, who is responsible, why it is important for the organisation and whether there any constraints involved.


Unless goals are measurable, it's hard to evaluate progress. By setting deadlines and achievement milestones, you can get your employees to stay on track. Motivate them with incentives and explain the consequences of failure.


High achievement comes from high aims, no doubt. However, setting very lofty goals will demotivate rather than motivate your employees. So, set realistic goals which can be achieved by leveraging employees' talents and available resources.


Show your employees how the work they do is meaningful and contributes to the achievement of the company's overall strategy. Also, match your goals with your employees' personal values and career interests. This is likely to fill them with a sense of purpose and pride.


Structure your goals around a specific timeframe to offer a sense of urgency.


Once the targeted result is clear to everyone, each person must share accountability for achieving the result. You have to inspire people to not see themselves as victims of the circumstance. You have to get them to stop finger-pointing at each other, being in denial, resorting to covering their tails, and abandoning giving up the unhealthy "its-not-my-job" attitude. You have to impress upon them that they cannot be passive onlookers because those who wait, only get things left by those who hustle. How do you achieve this? To do so, first and foremost, you have to be ready to let go of the leash. If you micromanage people all the time, they will never learn to take ownership. Give some power to those who have demonstrated their capacity to handle it with responsibility and allow them some autonomy over their tasks. Don't doubt their decisions and ideas as doing so won't do any wonder to their self-confidence. Another way to get people to take charge is to make them feel valued and know that their ideas are heard and considered, regardless of their position in the organisational hierarchy.


A work environment in which your subordinates are constantly scouring for reasons or excuses to legitimise their failure at anticipating and fixing problems will certainly not help you achieve organisational success. Therefore, to improve accountability, you need to get people you supervise into a problem-solving mental mode. This entails three things - first, get them to reduce the occurrence of problems. The idea is to anticipate what could occur and prepare for the worst. Get them to constantly and rigorously ask themselves the question "What else can I do?" In doing so, they take ownership of the task of tackling issues head-on before circumstances force them. Second, create safety. Encourage people to think of problems, if any occur, not as distractions but as opportunities for continuous improvement. This will encourage them to acknowledge mistakes and share their learnings with others. And, third, get people to break down silos and collaborate across functions to troubleshoot complex problems. This eliminates corporate politicking and creates a sense of joint accountability.


If you want people to embrace full accountability for results, you have to build in implementation and follow-through into your company's processes. Let your employees or direct reports know that just having plans, strategies or ideas is not enough. With respect to the outcomes achieved, they should be able to answer what they did, how well they did what they did, and whether anyone was better off in the bargain. After all, results do matter!


A work culture that emphasises on individual as well as collective accountability, is hardly an option nowadays. The above outlined four steps will help you build an environment where your employees or subordinates don't just do as told rather show energy and commitment to achieve results. This approach may take a little longer but it's effective, longer lasting, and worth the time investment. )

(The author is Founder, CEO and Chief Trainer at Work Better)

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