How to Install an Accountability Culture

Excerpt from “Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s The Fix?” by Julie Miller and Brian Bedford (New Shelves Distribution, 2014).

We have a proven process for putting accountability front and center. The process is straightforward, but don’t mistake that for easy. It isn’t. Installing a culture requires focus, time, and commitment, and if you’re not prepared to invest these things in the process, don’t even start.

MillerBedford’s Four Steps to Accountability

  1. Share your accountability vision
  2. Bring accountability to life
  3. Weave accountability into the fabric of your organization
  4. Model the way

1. Share Your Accountability Vision

If you’ve read to here, we’re assuming that accountability is important to you. Maybe you’re starting a business, and you want to build a solid foundation of accountability from the ground up. Or maybe you’ve taken over, or moved up in, an organization in which accountability is lacking, and you want to fix it. Or perhaps you just want to give your kids a solid grounding of accountability.

In all these cases, you have in your mind why accountability is important. Now you must get everyone else to share your vision and have the same level of commitment to it that you do.

To get everyone’s attention, you need a short, strong, convincing statement of the value that an accountability-based culture creates. You need to know, and be able to say, why it’s of importance to the success of your particular organization, so you can share it consistently at every opportunity. This is what is referred to as an elevator speech—clear and to the point and easy to deliver in a short span of time, such as when you’re riding in an elevator with someone.

Your elevator speech should answer the following questions:

  • What problem are we trying to fix?
  • Why is accountability important to us?
  • What do we need you to do differently?
  • What benefits will we see if our organization builds an accountability-based culture?

2. Bring Accountability to Life

It’s important that all employees share a clear understanding of what accountability means in the organization, so that everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, understands clearly how they are expected to behave. One way to ensure that, to bring the vision of accountability to life for all involved, is to develop behavior statements that help clarify the vision. The statements will answer the fundamental question of what, precisely, we are trying to fix, implement, or eliminate. This is especially helpful in international companies, because accountability might mean different things in different countries, languages, and cultures.

Consider the following examples:

Accountability Behavior Statements

  • Always do what you say you’ll do.
  • If you are going to miss a commitment, communicate that as soon as you can, to all who need to know.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes, as well as for your successes.
  • Develop a list of DOs and DON’Ts to ensure clarity. This helps individuals know exactly what they should do and what they should not do.

DOs might include:

  • Do have a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities.
  • Do be open, honest, and truthful.

As for DON’Ts:

  • Don’t make excuses.
  • Don’t blame others.

3. Weave Accountability into the Fabric of the Organization

Now you need to make sure that accountability “sticks” across the organization. How do you do that? We say you weave it into the fabric of the organization. The idea is to link accountability to all the systems and processes you already have in place. The following systems all should consistently reinforce the importance of accountability.

Recruiting and Selection: It’s much easier to hire employees with an accountability mindset than to train them. Harder yet is the process of getting rid of employees who aren’t accountable. Successful leaders remain involved in the hiring process. We recommend adding behaviorally based questions to the interview process, to ensure you are hiring the proper candidates.

Performance Management: Employees need to know they will be responsible not only for the results of their work, but also for how they go about their work, and that their rewards will depend on both.

Rewards and Succession Planning: Promotions and salary increases should only be considered for people who demonstrate accountability as defined by the organization. When your employees do well, reward and promote them. If they don’t do well, apply consequences and make sure they understand that their performance will limit their success and possible progression.

Communication: Do you hold regular communications meetings with your team or organization? We recommend it, because meetings provide an opportunity for management to highlight people who have demonstrated good accountability; to show where things went wrong; and to analyze what could have been done better. This should be done in a way that instructs rather than punishes.

Training and Development: Develop a training plan that teaches all employees:

  • Why accountability is important and how to understand accountability behaviors
  • How their accountability mindset and behaviors will affect their pay and progression in the organization
  • How to provide feedback to one another, since this is essential to developing a culture of accountability
  • Develop a training plan that teaches all organization leaders:
  • What their role is as accountability role models

Make sure to add this to the New Employee Orientation, so that new employees can be successful immediately!

4. Model the Way

Okay, now you’ve done the easy part. This last piece is much harder, and it’s the reason so many culture processes fail. Too often, leaders don’t demonstrate the behaviors they have declared to be essential to the organization, nor do they hold others accountable to them. Employees are cynics, and they’re suspicious, often rightly, of the fine words they see and hear. You’ve heard us say, “As above, so below.” In the end, the establishment of a culture is all about how leaders behave, and what behaviors they reward and discourage. In other words, establishment of a culture requires strong and consistent leadership.

In order to Model the Way, leaders should follow this process:

Hold Yourself Accountable

You must hold yourself accountable to at least the same level of expectation you have for your employees. In other words, “Walk the talk.” Know that everyone is going to be watching you and everything starts at the top. You must set the example that others will follow.

Set Clear Expectations

Without clear expectations, there’s no way to hold someone accountable. By bringing accountability to life you define the accountability behaviors statements and DOs and DON’Ts for your organization. You must make sure each employee has a clear understanding of what these mean in the job he or she performs.

Hold Others Accountable

Let’s get back to the basics here. 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 seems to break down most often. Don’t let that happen to you.

Provide Feedback

Once you have trained your employee on your expectations, the best way to hold them accountable is to provide regular feedback on their performance.

Excerpt from “Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s The Fix?” by Julie Miller and Brian Bedford (New Shelves Distribution, 2014). For more information, visit or

In 2001, Julie Miller and Brian Bedford co-founded Miller Bedford Executive Solutions, an international consulting firm. They consult with companies to address organizational issues, with specific emphasis on strategy, culture, and leadership. Prior to forming their own company, they both worked in Human Resources at Motorola. He served as senior vice president of Human Resources for the Semiconductor Products Sector, an $8 billion business with 50,000 employees. She served as director of Human Resources for the Networking and Computing Systems Group, a $2 billion business within the sector. Miller and Bedford are coauthors of “Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s The Fix?” The book is full of real life stories of what accountability looks like, and what can go wrong in its absence. For more information, visit


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