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Culture of Accountability or Culture of Fear?

Categories: Culture of Accountability

In 2016, regulators fined the banking giant, Wells Fargo, $185 million for an illegal cross-selling scheme. Bank employees had created millions of fraudulent accounts, at the behest of managers, to hit lofty sales goals.

While over 5,000 workers were fired for improper behavior, Wells Fargo executives claimed ignorance. The hunt for accountability has dragged on, following an investigation by the Department of Justice, two Congressional hearings, and a federal class-action lawsuit.

Leaders sometimes confuse accountability with punishing people that don’t achieve the desired result. When “failure is not an option” that’s not accountability – it’s a culture of fear. Walls go up, problems stay hidden, and cover-ups ensue.

When people are afraid to speak up, it can lead to disaster: Managers don’t receive critical feedback from their employees, vital projects crash and burn, and no one wants to take ownership of the results.

True accountability happens in an environment where people can ask questions, share new ideas, and even make mistakes.

A great example of how this works is the story of ALARIS Medical Systems. The company missed both top and bottom line performance numbers for three years in a row. Nothing seemed to make a difference. Finally, there was a focused effort to elicit feedback from every level of the organization. Individuals were encouraged to share difficult facts that previously many did not want to hear. Once everyone could see the challenges, the organization was able to build solutions. ALARIS’s stock price then shot up 900% within a 3-year period.

How can you create a Culture of Accountability? Start by creating an environment of psychological safety:

  1. Invite Constructive Feedback – Let everyone know that you value their candid feedback. When you do receive feedback, ask clarification questions, acknowledge their perspective, and explore options for the future.
  2. Reframe Failure – When the desired result is not achieved, invite your employee to think about what they might do differently to achieve a better outcome next time. Shift the focus from blame to ownership!
  3. Create an Andon Process – Originally used by Toyota, the Andon system provides a process that empowers employees at every level to identify potential missteps. Any time an employee follows the process, they also receive positive reinforcement for their contribution to the organization’s success.

BRODY’s interactive workshop on accountability takes managers and leaders through a process that helps them Create a Culture of Accountability, leading to increased operational efficiency, higher levels of employee engagement, and results-driven collaboration between employees and managers. You can download a full outline of the workshop here.

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