Thoughts on accountability and culture

Thoughts on accountability and culture

In an organization characterized as powerful and functional, there is a culture of individuals who:

  • Seek win/win situations,
  • Take responsibility for controlling their own behaviors, thoughts and emotions,
  • Respect the autonomy of others,
  • Are vision driven, and
  • Influence instead of demand or attempt to control.

An organizational culture is determined by the collective behaviors and actions of its population. Regardless of what is stated as the culture, the reality of what your culture is will be demonstrated in the actions and attitudes of your people. So in order to change the culture, we need to change the behaviors of the individuals that make up the collective population.

Individual behavior will not change until an employee comes from a powerful mindset, and not a powerless one. To do this, each individual must become accountable for the one and only thing in his control – himself. This accountability of the individual is the driving force to creating the one thing you need to be, and that’s fully functional in the workplace.

These are not unrealistic expectations. As leaders, in order to adopt this culture of power, people need to first understand how their powerless mentalities affect their ability to have the power of accountability.

The Victim Mentality in the Organization

I remember sitting with a team of managers at a large agency, who were seeking solutions to the problems they faced. We brainstormed what those problems were. They listed all the problems with the people they managed. Then I challenged them to think about their own behaviors. They then listed all the problems they faced because of their bosses. So, I challenged them again. “What is it that you do that feeds these problems?”

It was like pulling teeth. Finally, after much discussion and challenge, they finally acknowledged they created a few problems of their own, however, they explained, these were the result of decisions and behaviors of those above them. I wondered at the time if there was any level in this organization that didn’t feel victimized.

The victim mentality we find in our organization is a left-over side effect of the old siloed, authority-based management approach. Given that everything in this paradigm positions individuals in the hierarchy as those ‘with power over another individual’; everyone ends up being a victim of those around them.

When the victim mentality permeates an organization, you find employees who are disgruntled and angry. Often these feelings are the result of the following when an employee:

  • Comes from a place of lose-win, where he sees himself as being in the losing side of the battle.
  • Sees the environment and the people in it as having control over him.
  • Does not take responsibility for his emotions since he feels he has no choice regarding how he feels.
  • Gives his power over to other people, particularly those who have positional power because they have authority and control.
  • Wants someone else to take responsibility for his destiny.
  • Excels at the blame game. It is never his fault.

Having a victim culture in the organization is like a deadly virus. It robs people of their will to succeed and they become passive riders rather than drivers. They take few risks. And although they may seem like good employees, because they take direction easily and don’t rock the boat, but they are never ever accountable for anything, which translates to little or nothing getting done.

The Forceful Mentality in the Organization

The opposite of the victim is the forceful person. When a forceful mentality permeates an organization, we find employees who are bullies and disrespectful. Often these behaviors result when an employee:

  • Has an approach of win-lose. I win; you lose.
  • Sees only one choice for action – Overpower their “opponents”.
  • Sees the world as black and white.
  • Uses force or fear to get people to do what he wants.
  • Is highly political and only wants to come out on top
  • Avoids accountability when there is a failure

These employees are the robbers of any positive energy in the organization, who seek and feed on the victims in the organization.  Although these employees can appear to be successful in a siloed organization because they have the authority to control others through fear, in the healthy environment, this type of behavior does not play well since most goals are accomplished in a team environment and forceful individuals are death to team collaboration.

Using Accountability to Create Power

One of the most effective ways to create a culture of power is to deploy individual accountability in a healthy, functional way so it creates powerful individuals. There are four stages of the accountability cycle.

Stage 1

Define and negotiate goals that are realistic. As soon as you tell employees what they should produce or give them goals that are impossible to achieve you set people up to use force to achieve that goal or become victims and give up. Use a collaborative process for identifying goals that are aligned to a broader goal and be open to a discussion that includes employee responses of “yes” … When employees have the power to negotiate goals that keep them in control of their destinies, they will be able to act upon it and create that destiny.

Stage 2

Allow time to Plan and Implement: More often than not everything in a non-profit agency should be executed through a team. When leaders give employees goals (deliverables) that require them to lead a team to create and then don’t allow them to plan or have time to implement, you create a dysfunctional environment that doesn’t position anyone for success. Goals are nothing more then dreams of what we hope to achieve. Planning is the power to create the path to achieve that dream. When you set a team on path without any roadmap to getting there, you position them for one thing – failure.

Employees in the victim mindset, give up before they begin. Employees in the forceful mindset behave with an ‘end justifies the means’ mindset and run over anyone who gets in their way. But, when you permit time for planning individuals and teams are now in control of ‘proving’ whether the dreams we have for our organizations are realistic. If they prove it is unattainable and then make the necessary adjustments – they can accept accountability to make that goal happen without forcing anyone to bend to their will.

Stage 3

Learn: This is the most important stage for both leaders and individuals. Here we determine if the accountability the employee accepted in stage 1, planned and implemented in stage 2 was fulfilled. The critical piece to this is that this is not a discussion of blame. As leaders, you must ensure the conversation during this stage remains focused on ‘what’ happened and ‘why’ versus ‘who’ did or did not do something to or for the employee. This process needs to open and honest.

Stage 4

Consequences: Now just by permitting employee’s power over their destinies (through the acceptance of accountability) and then expecting employees coming from victim or forceful mindset to automatically change is unrealistic. As human beings our ability to change is driven from our readiness to change. No matter what, in life there are consequences for our behaviors.

The same holds true in our organization. When you infiltrate a culture of accountability in your organization, employees may or may not be able to accept it and then act in an acceptable way to achieve it. Therefore, you must apply positive or negative consequences based on whether they have met their accountability or not and the types of behaviors which got them there.

  • If someone meets their accountability and did it from a place of power, positive consequences are applied.
  • If someone doesn’t meet their accountability, but acted from a place of power, consequences must be applied that deals with the unfulfilled accountability but demonstrates the behavior is acceptable. Then, give them a chance to learn and achieve accountability next time!
  • If someone consistently meets their accountability but always comes from a forceful mindset then consequences must be applied that demonstrates this behavior is unacceptable.
  • If someone never meets their accountability and attempts to deflect this failure through a victim mindset consequence must be applied that demonstrates this behavior is unacceptable.

In the end, these consequences must always be linked to an employee’s fulfillment of accountability or not and their ability to learn from their mistakes. When positioned right, using accountability will help to create powerful employees in the organization who take risks, are proactive and keep moving forward to do one thing – achieve goals.