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The best kind of culture is a Culture of Accountability where people demonstrate high levels of ownership to think and act in the manner necessary to achieve organizational results. The defining characteristic of this kind of culture is that people voluntarily assume their own accountability. Rather than having accountability forced upon them, they enthusiastically take it upon themselves. That’s right, they are neither commanded to be accountable nor kept under surveillance until “called to account” for their actions. In a Culture of Accountability, people at every level of the organization are personally committed to achieving key results targeted by the team or organization, and they never wait to be asked for a progress report or a follow-up plan. Instead, they report proactively and follow-up constantly, diligently measuring their own progress because they have internalized their commitment to achieving results. Their mantra—“What else can I do to achieve the desired results?”—leads them to continually find answers, develop solutions, overcome obstacles, and triumph over any trouble that might come along. And, as you would expect, everyone holds everyone accountable for results.
Creating a Culture of Accountability will have a powerful impact on results, because people consistently produce organizational success, human fulfillment and the creation of real value. But getting there represents more of an ongoing journey than an actual destination. Leaders, together with everyone else in the organization, must work continually to create and maintain such a culture. Consider this example from one of our clients about their journey toward building a Culture of Accountability. Every year the “Women’s Boutique,” a nationally branded chain, conducted a women’s suit contest, a sales event that lasted four weeks and included a companywide competition. Susan’s district, ten retail stores in Nevada, had always come in dead last in the contest because neither she nor her people believed they could sell suits in Nevada, especially in this economy. When a new regional manager told her that district managers fell into two groups—“owners” and “renters”—and that she was a “renter,” Susan finally woke up. She realized that her failure to fulfill expectations had stemmed from an inability and unwillingness to get the people in her region to take accountability for achieving the desired results. With a commitment toward greater personal accountability, she persuaded her store managers that their collective excuses were preventing them from achieving better results. Together, they committed themselves to embracing and living the Steps to Accountability: to See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.
Targeting the annual women’s suit contest as a sales event they all needed to own, Susan and her store managers became relentless in asking, “What else can I do to get the result?” Susan visited each store to provide coaching and assistance as store managers hosted VIP parties to get their people and preferred customers excited about the contest. They installed “Think Boxes” in every store, giving people a way to share their ideas about what else could be done to increase sales. People throughout the district quickly became engaged in thinking up new ways to draw more customers into the excitement, coming up with ideas such as offering customers the opportunity to win a Fossil Watch or a second suit for a penny. As Susan continued to meet one-on-one with her store managers, they became more accountable for results. Four weeks later, when the suit contest ended, Susan’s district finished in first place. Her regional manager congratulated her on making the move from an entrenched “renter” to a solid “owner” of the business. She was even invited her to speak at a companywide conference about the transformation she had engineered in her district, “A lot of you know me. I’ve been with the company for twelve years and I have never been the number one district in anything before. What changed for me this year was I applied what I learned about how to help people take accountability, and it totally changed my life.” During the next three years, Susan’s district rose from the bottom 20% of the company’s 90 districts to the top 20%–further evidence that a Culture of Accountability is the best kind of culture for creating sustained results.