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Every business wants to create a culture of accountability, so here’s how to do it using performance management

Creating a culture of accountability means creating a business where everyone takes responsibility, everyone acknowledges their mistakes, and everyone is willing to learn from their mistakes. It might sound like rose-tinted thinking, an idea which is too good to be true. However, with the right performance management approach, you can create a genuine culture of accountability in your business.

1. Lead by example

Creating a culture of responsibility — or any kind of workplace culture — starts at the top. Managing yourself is the hardest part of any performance management system, and that’s precisely why it’s so important. If you are part of the leadership team, the culture of the business starts and ends with you. So, if you want to create accountability culture, you also need to take accountability.

The first thing you need to take accountability for is recognising that there isn’t an accountability culture in the business and being honest about the reasons for that. The fact that you want to create a culture of accountability is great, so start by recognising the role that you and your leadership team have played in not instilling this culture. You are ultimately responsible for everything your company does.

Now that you’ve accepted this, take note of what you’ve learned. Figure out what you and your fellow leaders have done which has created a workplace culture you don’t like. Think about all of the things you’ve said, goals you’ve set, behaviours you’ve demonstrated and people you’ve hired. Going back over your decisions like this will help to make things clearer.

2. Hire a team that believes in accountability

Even if your business already has a stable team of many people, the next person you hire has the potential to completely reinvent or disrupt your workplace culture. This can be a great thing or a bad thing depending entirely on who you hire, whether their values are aligned with those of the organisation, what role you give them, and what kind of performance management you use.

With every step of the onboarding process — the job description, the posting, the interview, and the training — you will have the chance to be clear about your company’s values. So, if the aim is to create a culture of accountability, let any potential employee know how important this is to you.

Equally, make any potential new employee show you how important this culture is to them by asking them about their failures and how they overcame them. If they’re serious about accountability culture, they’ll be able to answer those questions by showing that they took responsibility and learned from each of their failures.

3. Ditch annual appraisals

The next step in creating a culture of accountability with performance management is actionable, practical, and straightforward: stop doing annual appraisals. They are expensive, stressful, unnecessary and — worst of all — they don’t encourage accountability or improve performance. One poll found that as many as 98% of businesses found annual appraisals unnecessary.

With so many people against annual appraisals, the call to drop them seems like a straw man argument, yet our own survey found that 65% of businesses are still using annual appraisals.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter said way back in 2009 that “the tools of accountability — data, details, metrics, measurement, analyses, charts, tests, assessments, performance evaluations — are neutral.” In other words, they don’t in themselves create accountability, it is the culture that surrounds them that does. Relying too heavily on these tools can breed a culture of blame and lack of trust, which inhibits rather than encourages accountability.

During an annual review, you are very aware that you won’t have this conversation again for another year and that your pay may depend on what you say. As such, the pressure you will feel to demonstrate your successes will be so intense that you’ll be reluctant to accept failures or mistakes.

Worse still, because an annual review is limited to once a year, you might not remember those mistakes by the time your appraisal comes around. Even if you do, it won’t be clearly — the memory will be distorted too heavily by your own bias.

The result is the exact opposite of a culture of accountability and the appearance that everything is fine. HR writer Susan M. Heathfield quipped how, in one business she worked in, an annual appraisal gave 96% of staff the same “outstanding” rating. No-one wanted to take accountability for the negatives of that year because the consequence would mean being in that dreaded 4%.

4. Use continuous performance management

Not all performance management is created equal. When people talk about killing performance reviews, what people are normally referring to is the annual appraisal. This system — with its forms, its weeks of preparation, and its once-a-year cycle — is inherently flawed.

Continuous performance management, on the other hand, is not a performance review; it is performance management that works. More than that, it’s the kind of performance management which can create a culture of accountability.

Through checking in with your employees at regular intervals, through focusing more on pragmatic next steps rather than an arbitrary score, you can better encourage employees to be open about their failures, to be accountable for them and learn from them. It’s easier to accept that you’ve made a mistake in a regular conversation where the aim is to help you to improve and learn rather than give you a rating.

Clear Review’s performance management software has helped some of the world’s biggest businesses to implement a culture of accountability. Book a free performance management software demo today to see how Clear Review’s software can help your business.