Culture Without Accountability: What’s the Fix?

Book summary by Leza Chryssovergis, ISD Specialist, School for Family and MWR


Miller, J. & Bedford, B. (2013). Culture Without Accountability: What’s the Fix? Austin, TX: Criffel Publishing.


“Accountability is a personal willingness to answer for the results of one’s behaviors and actions” (Miller & Bedford, 2013, p. 18). Shirking one’s responsibility isn’t unique to just large organizations; individuals also make bad decisions or exercise poor judgment. This alone isn’t the problem because we’re human, but when the decision made results in a major mistake and the individual or organization spends time trying to cover up and avoid the consequences a problem is born. Why do we do it? Being accountable is hard and without a culture that encourages accountability, it won’t get any easier.


When a person acts without accountability and gets caught, the damage is primarily to the person. When organizations act without accountability the damage is more widespread. People know the difference between right and wrong but often make the choice to be deceptive. It takes courage to admit you’re wrong. We must put a system in place that will drive people to make the right choices.


Accountability must be ingrained in the organizations culture for it to work (Miller & Bedford, 2013, p 73).  Organizations have their own culture; dictating which behaviors are expected, encouraged, rewarded and punished. Many companies have their mission and vision posted so that all can see but this doesn’t make a culture. Culture isn’t determined by what we say but rather what we do! Every time leaders make a decision, they signal what is important to the organization.


There are many benefits of building an accountability-based culture. Some of them include:


  • Team members are more likely to be open an honest about issues
  • Leaders are much less likely to have major issues take you by surprise
  • When team members says they’ll do something, they can be relied on to do it
  • Team members are more likely to be supportive of one another
  • Team members share honest feedback
  • Other will want to do business with you because they know you can be relied upon and trusted
  • The organization will be more successful (Miller & Bedford, 2013, p. 82)


So, how do we fix it? Below are Miller Bedford’s Four Steps to Accountability (2013):


  1. Share your accountability vision
  2. Bring accountability to life
  3. Weave accountability into the fabric of your organization
  4. Model the way (p. 90)


Share your accountability vision


If you are new to a leadership position or a veteran leader who wants a change for your organization, develop a short, strong convincing vision statement identifying the value that an accountability-based culture creates. Answer the following questions:


  • What problem are we trying to fix?
  • Why is accountability important to us?
  • What do we need you to do differently?
  • What benefits will we see if our organization builds an accountability-based culture?  (p. 91)


Bring accountability to life


It is important that all team members share a clear understanding of what accountability means so team members know how they are expected to behave. Organizations can do this by developing behavior statements that clarify the vision.


Behavior statements may include the following:


  • Always do what you say you’ll do
  • If you are going to miss a commitment, communicate it as soon as you know.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes as well as your successes
  • Always tell the truth
  • Bring up issues as you discover them
  • Provide honest feedback to whomever needs to hear it as soon as possible (pp. 92-93)


Weave accountability into the fabric of your organization


Linking accountability into already existing systems will allow you to weave accountability into the fabric of your organization. For example, when recruiting and selecting you may add the following behavior-based interview question: Share with me a time you made a big mistake and how you handled it.


Model the Way


This is usually the reason organizations fail. Leaders need to demonstrate the behaviors they wish to see in their team members.


  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Set clear expectations
  • Hold others accountable
  • Provide feedback (pp. 99-100)


Feedback is a way to keep employees moving in the same direction. It should be shared regularly without delay, specific, and focused on the facts (p. 103). Which do you think would be better received: “You said you would get the report filed by yesterday, and you missed your commitment” or “You always miss your deadlines. Once again you proved I can’t count on you.” When giving feedback, remember:


Situation – describe the situation, what did the person say or do

Impact – describe the impact it had

Suggestion – suggest ways to communicate this/stop this


Continuing with the example from above: “When you failed to get the report filed by the deadline you committed to, you caused a delay in the process. This resulted in other team members have to scramble to meet the organization’s target. In the future, I expect you to meet your commitment or let me know in advance if you can’t” (p. 104-05)


Although sharing feedback is not easy, telling the truth is part of what being accountable means. In applying the four steps, the team members see that leadership is serious about accountability.


Success and creating a positive work environment are two compelling reason to developing an accountability-based culture. Individuals who hold themselves accountable are more likely to be successful (Miller & Bedford, 2013, p. 124). We all want to enjoy going to work. An accountability-based culture will make for a better workplace.



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