When you hear the word “accountability,” what images, people, stories come to mind? How important is it for you and your workplace productivity? In our culture transformation work at 1-degree, it is the #1 theme and aspiration! Yet, it is one of the least understood leadership values. In one of our core culture tools, Barrett’s Culture Values Assessment (CVA) people consistently say that accountability is one of their top 3 personal values, they don’t typically see it in their current culture and yet they crave more of it in their desired culture! Why? What’s going on? This blog aims to explore what accountability is, why it’s important and the “fearless trinity of accountability values” we need to focus on to nurture and activate high levels of accountability in our workplaces.

Picture this…

You have a team member who is slogging away, stressed out and performing only ok.
They are well-intended, have relevant skills, but seem to be struggling.
And they seem to be a little “slippery” with following through on their commitments.
Got someone in mind?
So, how does accountability fit here? Who “owns” their performance? How can/should you help?
If you are a team member, friend, or their boss – what is your role to instill, improve accountability levels?

What is the problem with “accountability?”

Accountability is often viewed from a “command & control” lens vs from a compassionate and fearless lens. There are a host of possible scenarios with this person. The question is – what’s really going on and what can we as a leader do to help shift their mindset and behaviour? The typical leadership approach is to “push” them to higher levels of performance and commitment. That often backfires!

Everyone in organizations wants more accountability – not just the executives. So, what is missing?

A definition of accountability in business …

“When CEO’s & executive teams lead with personal responsibility and employees stand with integrity and follow through on commitments.” This is a definition of accountability from executive coach Lorraine Moore. Lorraine is currently based in Calgary and is President of Accelerate Success Group. Lorraine knows a thing or two about accountability as a long time executive leader at TD Bank and as a Chair of Mackay CEO Forums. She has written a dynamite book about accountability called Feet to the Fire.

From her experience, Lorraine believes accountability must start with the CEO and executive team as far as walking the talk and coaching to results. And it is about integrity – being authentic and transparent about commitments. Otherwise, accountability falls apart…

Based on working with scores of executive teams at 1-degree, our experience is very consistent with Lorraine’s – if accountability is missing in a culture it must be a problem with the executives.

Why is accountability so important?

This is a great question to fuel a juicy 30-minute discussion in a team meeting!
Here are a few perspectives on why accountability is important:

According to Lorraine Moore, accountability is about establishing trust.
High accountability=high trust levels.
High trust levels=high productivity.

According to executive and entrepreneurial coach Brent Lowe, accountability is important because “there is a strong desire to shift from adult-child relationships in business to healthy adult-adult relationships and accountability is foundational to these relationships.” In other words, accountability is about healthy relationships and TRUST is a PRECONDITION to accountability.

My personal view is that accountability is the “glue” to effective cultures. It sticks people and commitments together. When thoughtfully deployed, it fuels productivity and positive growth. But it needs to be more “pull” than “push”, and tap into intrinsic motivation (purpose, mastery, autonomy).

What is the “fearless trinity of accountability?”

Let’s go back to our example at the front end of this blog with our struggling and stressed team member. Got them in mind again? What are few key values that we can focus on and live to help them grow and improve performance?

The brand of leadership our team at 1-degree nurtures and develops we call “Fearless Leadership.” By reducing fear in organizations, we increase trust and creativity. We have a series of learning modules that aim to develop executive leadership skills such as: Coaching, Collaboration and Accountability.

At the core of Fearless Leadership are values. Based on our experience, here are three core values that fuel energy and accountability:

Fearless value #1 – CLARITY

How clear are they about the purpose of the business/organization overall?
Is there a “why” for them in their role and business what can be crystalized?
So often, we get overly focused on execution only and we lose a sense of why we are doing things and the impact on our customers, team members and our environment.
Also, how is their role shifting? Is a role re-calibration needed? One of our key roles as leaders of a business, functional area or a team is to clarify purpose, roles and where we are headed.

Fearless value #2 – CONTINUOUS LEARNING

We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world that is moving fast. One of the most requested skills in our world today is learning and “unlearning” (the ability to change an old way of doing things). For our colleague in the story, what learning is needed to fuel motivation? Is there a skill and/or knowledge gap that is creating stress? Accountabilities are constantly shifting, as are skill sets. By asking “what do I/we need to learn here,” can fuel accountability and reduce stress.

Fearless value #3 – COMMITMENT

Ultimately business success is about execution and getting the right things done in a timely manner to make a positive impact. Back to Lorraine’s definition of accountability, “When CEOs and executive teams lead with personal responsibility and where employees stand with integrity and follow through on commitments.” The question is WHY commitments may not happen and get curious – what are the barriers for our team member? Over-loaded? Skill gap? Other team members not pulling their weight? Accountability today is more and more a collective muscle. AND it requires individual focus and energy to get great work done. As leaders, let’s assume positive intent and explore WHY commitments are not being followed through on and coach/support versus assuming “they don’t get it” or “gotcha!”

Call to Action: How can you activate higher accountability levels in your workplace culture?

Here are 5 insightful questions to weave in to a team meeting or offsite to clarify the meaning & key behaviors of accountability for your organization (or a team):

• How do we define accountability around here?
• Why is it important?
• What are 3-5 key behaviours that drive effective accountability? (for example –following through on commitments in a timely manner)
• What are 3 key “un-acceptable behaviours” that negatively impact accountability? (for example –blaming others)
• What are a few stories of “fearless accountability in action?” I hope this has provoked some productive thinking for you, clarified accountability and given you some practical ideas to activate higher accountability in your workplace culture. We all want more team members who are less stressed, more purposeful and energized by their work!


1/ Barrett Values Culture Values Assessment

2/ Feet to the Fire by Lorraine Moore

3/ Reinventing Scale-Ups: Radical Ideas for Growing Companies, by Brent Lowe