4 Ways to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Business



It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in the business world. It’s always surprising the number of people who aren’t quite able to articulate what accountability means.

As a business strategy consultant, I always ask the leadership teams how they think accountability differs from responsibility – and many don’t know the answer. 

To drive accountability in your business, you first need to understand what it is.


What is Accountability?

It can be helpful to think of accountability as the “what” – if you are accountable for something, you own the result. If it fails, you’re the person in trouble. If it succeeds, you’re the one who gets the high-fives! (although great leaders own the failure, and share the success with their team).

Responsibility, on the other hand, is the “how”. It is the doing of the work. In a sales organization, sales reps are responsible for doing the work, but it’s the sales leaders who are ultimately accountable for achieving their revenue target.

If you’re building your culture right, you’re driving accountability throughout the organization. That means spending less time telling people what to do and more time working with people to agree to the results they’re going to achieve.

For example, rather than telling your sales director that they’re responsible for this, that, and the other, you want to tell them that success in their job means being accountable for sales of a particular type and volume. You want to make it clear that the goal you’re looking to achieve is x, y, or z (insert your goals) and leave it to them to figure out how to achieve that.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink describes a simple model for what motivates great employees. To be driven to succeed, employees need: 

  • Purpose –  An understanding of how they connect to the purpose of the organization
  • Autonomy – they want to feel like they have some control over their world
  • Mastery – constant improvement and ownership of their destiny 

Creating a culture of accountability is all about developing autonomy based on results so that people are empowered to think for themselves and set their own course toward achieving goals. Here are four ways to encourage this.


4 Steps to Create a Culture of Accountability 

1. Be Accountable Yourself 

Accountability starts with the company leader. This is the most important step in creating a culture of accountability. Going by the simplest definition of accountability, this means doing what you say you’re going to do.

As a business strategy consultant, whenever I hear from a leader that his or her team isn’t accountable or that they have problems around execution, I usually find that the company leader is not holding him or herself accountable. That may mean not answering emails, letting action items fall behind, not showing up for meetings on time, and more. When this kind of lack of accountability is demonstrated at the leadership level, it will trickle throughout the whole organization.


2. Create Organizational Clarity

To create a culture of accountability, each person on your team needs to know precisely what results he or she drives. To get clarity on that, you need to examine the functions in the business, who is accountable for them, and what result that function creates.

By the way, I deliberately use the term ‘function’ and not ‘role’ because functions are like hats people wear. In a small business, everyone wears multiple hats. If you’re the business owner, you may also be the leader, the janitor, and the head of sales! 

Instead of trying to combine everything within one role, it’s more useful to consider separate functions individually and figure out the measurement of success for each function. That makes it easier for us to align people to areas of genius and scale the business. 

For every function in the business, we want to know the key results (usually 3 to 5) that the function is accountable for. For example, a Head of Sales is accountable for net new revenue and recurring revenue from existing customers. That success is measured by a KPI (ex. New dollars brought in). In this case, your Head of Sales has clarity about exactly what results they drive.


3. Talk About Goals to Create Visibility and Team-Based Accountability

Business is like a team sport in which you’re looking to score. In a sport, you and your team are on a playing field and you can look around and see exactly how everyone is doing. It’s clear when the defence is doing great because they’re stopping people from coming into your zone. You know when the offence is excelling because they’re getting lots of opportunities and scoring goals.

Yet, for some businesses, what’s happening on the ‘playing field’ may be invisible. The rest of the team may not necessarily know how Bob, the sales leader who is accountable for revenue, is doing on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. Why does that matter?

If your team doesn’t know how each member is doing, they can’t hold each other accountable for the results you’re looking to achieve. Cultural accountability flourishes when you can create team-based accountability because no one wants to let the team down.

To create team-based accountability, you must discuss progress toward results often and openly. Discuss results in leadership meetings, create dashboards that help you track progress, and spend time troubleshooting when results are off track so that everyone on the team is equipped to help one another drive towards the results they’re accountable for.


4. Celebrate Successes and Create Consequences for Failures

As a team leader looking to create a culture of accountability, you need to make successes and disappointments clear so that your team understands what’s happening. That means being there to happily give a high five when things go well, and to be visibly disappointed when they don’t.

A good leader should be doing one-to-one meetings with members of their team every week in which they go through quarterly priorities and things the team member is accountable for. However, it’s not the leader’s job to sit there with a whip and accuse them of not achieving results. 

Rather, the leader’s job is to be a coach who helps each team member assess how they are doing, identify challenges preventing them from being where they need to be, and troubleshoot. Ultimately, the job of a leader is to encourage each member of the team and give them the confidence to do what they need to.

If you’ve built a great team and created a culture of accountability by following the first three steps, then people won’t want to disappoint you or other members of their team. In Creating a Culture of Accountability: A Gravitas Impact Monograph, Mark Green explains in detail how to create this accountability and why it’s vital for scaling your business. 

Ready to increase the accountability in your company? Contact me to discuss in more detail how you can create a culture of accountability. 

Mike Knapp


Mike has been helping businesses achieve their goals for more than 20 years. He believes there is a better way for business owners and leaders to build their businesses and achieve their big goals. As a Gravitas Impact Premium coach, he leverages the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ to simplify the art of strategy and discipline of execution.

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