Trainer QA

Create an Accountability Culture in Six Steps

I am a trainer in a non-profit organization. Because we are a close staff, we tend to avoid accountability discussions around inefficient patterns rather than discussing solutions for improved performance. People arrive late for meetings, fail to complete time-sensitive tasks and spend a lot of time talking. I do have plans to introduce Crucial Accountability in the future. Until that happens, what are some steps I can take to introduce the concepts of the course to our leadership team?

Thanks for a challenging question which a lot of trainers can relate to. Maybe we don’t work in a non-profit, but we struggle with a culture that is low on accountability. Or, we work under a management team that seems more interested in keeping the peace than improving performance. I’ll suggest some actionable ways to create an accountability culture ahead of introducing the full training course to your organization.

Partner with a Leader. It sounds as if you have a good working relationship with your leadership team. Wonderful! The first step to inspiring change is to partner with someone of influence who shares your desire to have a more efficient professional culture. As you prepare to roll out training, it is vital to work with a leader who is likely to share your concerns, has the skill and autonomy to try new ideas with their team, and who will be able to influence other leaders through their success. If you have a leader you are already working with in this capacity, then you are on the right path for transformation. For those trainers looking for a vested partner, don’t expect the right leader to immediately volunteer for this pathfinder role. They may have other concerns that are equally or more important than yours. Finding and nurturing a partnership will require listening, fact-finding, patience, compromise, and a shared mutual purpose.

Focus on the Fool’s Choice. We humans are quick to see decisions as either/or, even when they aren’t. In Crucial Conversations we call these Fool’s Choices. Examples include thinking we need to choose between peace and honesty or between winning and losing. The challenge many trainers face is a Fool’s Choice between holding people accountable and treating them with caring respect to maintain the integrity of the working environment. The way you break free of a Fool’s Choice is to ask, “How can we do both?” In this case: “How can we hold people accountable while still showing them our caring respect?” This is the question you and your leadership partner will need to address and answer.

Turn Purpose into Measurable Goals. Another common challenge that many organizations, especially non-profit organizations, face is a culture of “service values” as a substitute for measurable results. The behaviors you mentioned of arriving late to meetings and not addressing performance issues are a common symptom of service values becoming minimum standards of behavior, rather than challenging targets for teams and organizations to achieve.

As a trainer in your organization, you have an important role to play in recognizing and influencing behavior at your company. When you partner with your leadership advocate, consider using a method called Strategy On A Page (SOAP) to cascade your broad purpose and vision down to measurable goals for your team and organization. Create a SOAP that details the links between your organization’s ambitions (what it wants to achieve in the world) and the measurable results departments and individuals must achieve for this ambition to be realized. Identifying measurable results provides an immediate reason to hold people accountable.

Identify Problem Behaviors. As a trainer, you have the unique opportunity to involve the relevant parties affected by the problems you describe (lateness, chatting, etc.) in identifying problem behaviors. The goal is to have leadership and teams agree on the behavior changes they want to see within their team. A powerful way to involve them is to use a Start, Stop, and Continue exercise. This exercise can be used to direct leadership and teams to identify new behaviors they need to Start doing in order to achieve their measurable results, existing behaviors they need to Stop doing if they are to achieve these results, and existing behaviors they need to Continue doing to achieve the results they want to cultivate. Notice that these behaviors might be related to your organization’s “service values” but will be far more focused. Document these behaviors, create posters that describe them, and ask everyone to sign these posters as their commitment to change. This is a great exercise to do ahead of training as it helps participants and leadership begin to think through the elements of creating a culture of accountability.

Build New Skills and Norms. As VitalSmarts leaders, we ask for 200 percent accountability for the behavior changes teams have identified. This means that team members and leadership alike are 100 percent accountable for their own behaviors and 100 percent accountable for the behaviors of their colleagues. Instead of leaders being the only ones to hold others accountable, everyone in the team holds everyone else accountable which helps build support and reinforces the importance of individuals contributing to the organization’s accountability progress. As a trainer, using the Start, Stop and Continue exercise is a great way to check-in with teams and leadership to ensure strategies are aligned across departments and changes made where there are gaps.

Provide Leadership Support. When it comes to accountability, follow-through is everything. Helping individual team members identify formal and informal leaders who can hold them accountable for commitments, goes a long way in culture change. These leaders will play a champion role: coaching people who don’t feel skilled enough to hold a peer or boss to account, pushing people who don’t want to hold others accountable, and stepping in when an accountability discussion goes poorly or results in retaliation.

I hope these ideas give you a place to start introducing some basic accountability practices ahead of training your organization. What other ideas for creating an accountability culture have worked for your organization? Please comment with your ideas below.

Best,
David

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David Maxfield

David Maxfield is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, David has delivered engaging keynotes at prestigious venues including Stanford and Georgetown Universities. David’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500.
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