Will We Have a Culture of Accountability?


Pastor Jim has been teaching all year on the qualities and disciplines of a growing believer.  He recently spoke on accountability and servanthood, qualities that are needed for each of us as individuals and all of us as the local Body of Christ. 

In the corporate life of the Body, you can draw a link between the results we are achieving and the level of accountability we see manifested throughout the organization. Knowing how to create and sustain a culture of accountability for most groups is a great challenge. Groups that are operating with a high level of accountability are organizations that have been able to:

  • Clearly define their results
  • Create alignment around those results
  • Instill accountability needed to deliver those results
  • Sustain change

How do successful organizations enable their people to take ownership for delivering on their intended results? Finding practical answers to how to create higher levels of ownership often drives better results and increases the value and growth of the group. To be truly effective in today’s environment, leaders must be able to help find ways to create higher levels of ownership and joint accountability for achieving key results.


  • From Externalizing To Internalizing The Need For Change
  • From Blaming Others To Taking Accountability
  • From Doing The Job To Achieving The Result
  • From Working In Silos To Collaborating
  • From Telling People What To Do To Engaging The Hearts And Minds Of People

Externalizing vs. Internalizing the Need for Change: Most people are quite skilled at recognizing a problem. For example, “I sure wish the office would start doing their job better” or, “I wish the office would be more responsive.” People inherently struggle, however, with the ability to define themselves within the problem. An accountable mindset is one that says, “If I’m involved in the problem, I’m part of the solution.”

Blaming Others vs. Taking Accountability: Human nature drives people to blame others when things are going wrong. For some organizations, the Blame Game is so commonplace that it becomes accepted and even expected when someone doesn’t deliver. Organizations that are able to instill a Culture of Accountability are able to convert all of the time, energy and resources employed in the Blame Game and channel them into a consistent focus on the organizational results.

Doing the Job vs. Achieving the Result: Most leaders are fairly capable when it comes to creating accountability for activity levels. Less common is a leader who has created accountability around organizational results — a key shift in Creating a Culture of Accountability.

Telling People What to Do vs. Engaging the Hearts and Minds of People: The “Tell Me What to Do” Culture is where people check their brains at the door, punch the clock, and check off the list of activities that define their job. This activity-oriented mentality tends to be devoid of proactivity. A critical and necessary shift is engaging the hearts and minds of people instead of just their hands and feet.


THE TRADITIONAL VIEW: Most people view accountability as something that belittles them, happens only when performance wanes, or occurs when problems develop or results fail to materialize. Many think it only arises when something goes wrong or someone else wants to pin blame and point the finger. When the organizational ship is sailing along smoothly and failure has not yet sunk it, people rarely ask, “Who is accountable for this success?” Only when the hull springs a leak does anyone start looking around for the responsible party.

As a result, the notion of accountability has taken on a hard, critical edge that is often negative. The better question to ask is, “Who is accountable?” before it’s too late. By establishing accountability up front, people are enlisted and empowered to do all they can to ensure the desired result.

Most dictionaries present a definition of accountability that promotes a seemingly negative view. Consider Webster’s definition: “Subject to having to report, explain or justify; being answerable, responsible”. Notice how the definition begins with the words “subject to,” implying little choice in the matter. This suggests what we all have observed – accountability is viewed as a consequence for poor performance; it becomes a principle you should fear because it will only end up hurting you.

Little wonder people spend so much time avoiding accountability and trying to explain and justify poor results. A more positive and powerful definition of accountability will do more to achieve outstanding results than any amount of finger pointing and blaming. The question asking, “Who is to blame for this?” is activity-focused rather than result-focused. The greater impact on fostering and improving an organization’s ability to achieve results will always come from the ‘before-the-fact’ approach rather than the ‘after-the-fact’ way of establishing blame.

THE ALTERNATIVE VIEW: Consider the following alternative definition of accountability: “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” This definition suggests a mindset or attitude of continually asking, ‘What else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the desired results?” It involves a process of seeing, owning, solving, and doing, and requires a level of ownership that includes making, keeping, and answering personal commitments. Such a perspective embraces both current and future efforts rather than reactive and historical explanations.


DOING THE JOB VS. ACHIEVING THE RESULT: The first step towards Creating a Culture of Accountability is to define clear results within an organization. Nine out of ten companies have either not clearly defined results or have failed to communicate them broadly. It is virtually impossible to create a culture of accountability if people are unclear about the key results they are expected to deliver. Whether the focal point is an evangelistic goal, a specified delivery period for a task, or the pursuit of excellence in modeling behavior, people have to be clear on the direction. Once a system-wide direction has been decided, accountability requires that staff, from bottom to top, are clear on the results.

Leaders will often say, “I don’t care how you do it, just get it done!” Many times, organizational charts and job descriptions push people into boxes. They give people the idea that they are getting recognition and using their skills to perform a defined function or set of tasks. This task-oriented mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions, they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the desired result was achieved. Creating accountability requires that doing the job and delivering the result are one and the same; the job is not done until the result is achieved.

Effective leaders know that people are more productive when they focus on achieving the result. They lead people beyond the boundaries of their jobs and inspire them to relentlessly pursue desired results by creating an environment that motivates them to repeatedly ask, ‘What else can I do?” until the results are achieved. This mindset can become part of the culture only if people clearly understand the results they are expected to deliver.

THE NEXT STEP: ALIGNMENT – Without clarity, there can be no alignment. The targeted result must be clear to everyone on the team and each team member must share accountability for achieving the result.

Many management teams confuse agreement and alignment. Alignment means that a team may have some measure of agreement but not necessarily total agreement. This means that a team can have some disagreement and still be aligned. In fact, an organization cannot have true alignment without disagreement. True alignment does not occur until people have had the opportunity and assume the accountability to say what they really think in a manner that lets them work issues through and gain some buy-in. Disagreement inevitably accompanies the process, and that can be good.

Alignment does, however, bring agreement – the agreement to move forward, the agreement to support the direction or decision, and the agreement to speak up if you become unaligned. It is essential to work with people to develop some level of agreement about where the organization is headed and why.

Unfortunately, a group’s culture does not maintain alignment by itself. Alignment is a process, not an event. It is a process because the forces working to push the workers out of alignment are constant.

Groups frequently get mired in their attempts to gain alignment around their key results. Even the world’s most successful groups and leadership teams consistently struggle to create and maintain alignment. Alignment begins at the top. It refers to a shared understanding of the results the organization must achieve, and of the actions needed to achieve those results. If a group is out of alignment, if people lack a shared understanding of the targets and the means of achieving them, organizational structure becomes a side issue. The leadership team must create it, starting with themselves.

Creating alignment means moving from just one worker feeling accountable for quality and service, or financial performance, to everyone in the group feeling accountable for such results. A group gets out of alignment when leaders work on isolated results. Having a common focus and sharing accountability for key results keeps them united.

MAINTAINING ALIGNMENT: While leaders need not agree with every decision, each of them must actively promote every senior management decision. This means owning the decision as if it were their own. This is essential to maintaining alignment. Leaders can promote a particular decision in three important ways:

  • Advocating a decision translates to more vigorous and proactive support.
  • Sponsoring a decision involves taking vocal ownership of the decision and linking your success to its success.
  • Championing a decision means actively leading people in efforts to make it a success and keeping it on the daily agenda.

Alignment does not require every leader to champion every decision, but when each leader champions or sponsors several key initiatives, the group makes great progress.

The goal of alignment is to think and act as a team. Alignment is not an event – it’s a process. There are always forces working to throw the team out of alignment. Few of these forces can be addressed effectively by changing the structure of the organization. People will reliably produce results if they have an aligned team at the top leading them.