4 Ways To Upend Empty Accountability

Photo: AdobeStock/Vankad

Accountability has long had a finger-wagging overtone that makes us cringe. There’s a sense of being reprimanded for what hasn’t been done.

Being “held accountable” conjures dangling feet as a Mafioso type holds you up against a wall.

It’s also a lazy empty catchall buzzword – almost always directed toward others. “We’d be more successful if only our team was more accountable.” Accountability is the organizational victim go-to word.

And yet the reason accountability often gets an eye-roll, is it feels condescending and demeaning. When all of us agree to do things, when we take on commitments, it’s with the best of intentions. We think we can. We want to. We hope to. We strive to. We desire to complete said task by the time we said we would. We’re not liars, deceivers, connivers, agreeing to take something on with no intention of following through.

So how did we get here? Where we desperately want accountability in our organizations and yet, it feels absurdly elusive. (And no, unfortunately it doesn’t help if it’s part of your values statement.)

4 Ways to Transform Accountability:

1) Change the definition:

Accountability, said another way, is the ABILITY to COUNT. If we choose to be responsible – ABLE to RESPOND, then we have a chance to make a meaningful difference through our work.

  • A chance to create progress
  • A chance to help, to support, to create, to demonstrate, to alleviate, to revitalize, to expand, to open, to simplify…
  • A chance to forward the meaningfulness of what we’re up to in the world as a workplace community

2) Change the manager approach and employee experience:

Accountability is often a top down experience. As the parent scolds the child for not doing chores, the manager questions the employee for not doing tasks.

As a manager, accountability is your responsibility to actively notice your people. To witness them – to praise their successes when they are able to respond and when their work makes a meaningful contribution. As well as support them in their challenges when they are struggling or not bringing their “A” game.

3) Change ownership and add peer witnessing:

Implement “Cadence of Accountability,” a rhythmic meeting process that comes from the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Once a week small work teams come together for a 10-15 minute standing meeting in which each individual self-defines and declares the 1-3 tasks they are committing to accomplishing that week to strategically move forward the current team goal. And they report on their follow through (or lack thereof) on the task(s) they declared the week before.   This simple process is brilliant on several levels – my favorite of which is empowering peer pressure and support.

4) Change the context from morality to workability:

Accountability isn’t about being wrong or right, or about someone being good or bad. It’s simply about follow through on getting the work that needs to be done, done. When there’s a lack of alignment between commitments and completion, refer to the “Whole Integrity Checklist.” 

P.S. For more on accountability, check out Culture Works. Also available on Amazon.

Culture Works has been endorsed by many CEOs and thought leaders including:

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos and author of Delivering Happiness
  • Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage
  • Marshall Goldsmith, one of the top ten Most-Influential Business Thinkers in the World
  • Brian Tracy, author of Full Engagement


Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. She is a nationally renowned speaker and workplace culture expert.  Boesch is also the author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace and developer of the Choose People 360° Culture Audit. Kris is also a proud mother, dancing diva and dog lover.

Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. She is a nationally renowned speaker and workplace culture expert. Kris is also a proud mother, dancing diva and dog lover. Check out Kris's book "Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace" at https://www.CultureWorksBook.com, for more fabulous leadership tips and tools. Learn more about Kris's company at https://www.ChoosePeople.com or book Kris to speak at your next event at https://www.KrisBoesch.com!