Multi-directional Accountability

It’s one thing to hold yourself accountable, but do you hold others accountable? Do you have the skill and the will or do you play the blame game?

By others we mean your team members, managers and leaders, too! Accountability is multi-directional.

First off, let’s start by defining accountability. Accountability is having the competence and motivation to follow through on promises and commitments. Set your team up for success by encouraging a culture of accountability tailored to your organization’s specific structure and goals.

Holding everyone, at all levels of your organization, responsible leads to high accountability which creates alignment, encourages a safe space for interactive feedback (feedback, feedforward, and follow-up), and facilitates a healthy environment for learning and application. 

Envision a dragon boat. Everyone in the boat is going in the same direction and paddling in unison—in the exact same way, at the same time—that’s how they are able to move forward so smoothly. They are aligned. 

Aligned teams are accountable teams. 

We’ve all heard there is no “i” in “team”, but within a team there is the power of the “i”, the “we”, and the “us”. What does this mean? 

  • “i” contribute my best to the team. Which positively impacts the…
  • “we” — accomplish team goals. Which results in the…
  • “us” — a company that wins in the marketplace.  

Make a commitment to be accountable in order to achieve collective goals. This ultimately creates a sustainable system in which team members support and help one another.

Don’t be afraid to flex your leader assertiveness and adjust your leadership style to best align with those you’re working with and holding accountable.

Building a Culture of Accountability to Drive Results

By Tierra Madani, CPHR, HR Consultant, Chemistry Consulting Group

It seems we have all been feeling propelled forward these days as we turn the switch from ‘recovery mode’ to the ON button. As we get back to business, we are facing unique challenges within our working world that need to be mended before we turn our engines on to full speed ahead. 

One of the ways in which we can create a solution around these challenges is by bringing awareness to accountability.


HR & Communication Challenges in Today’s Workplace

The unique challenges we are facing in our workplaces can stem from how we are working; including environments that are hybrid, at the workplace and/or remote. Even before the pandemic, many teams were set up in this way just to a lesser degree for some. HR professionals and people leaders have been working in the background on bridging communication gaps and solving conflict that derive from these mixed workplace settings but adding the pressure that comes from picking up our pace has made it overwhelming. 

Broken links can happen anywhere within our organizations and our teams. Two key HR functions that require special attention right now are employee engagement and the onboarding of new hires. In today’s labour market experiencing nationwide staff shortages, our businesses are struggling to retain and engage top talent. It is critical that we look to address and follow-up on communication challenges such as reading between the lines, miscommunications, and different interpretations from a mix of online vs messaging vs texting vs in-person communication exchanges. 


Accountability as the Solution

Although we know it is literally impossible to be everywhere at once, for some reason there is this feeling of a superpower that remote work gives us where we are confident in our ability to communicate effectively everywhere we need to. Clearly this is one reason communication breaks down and the quality of our work is being negatively affected. Holding each other responsible to do things right and when we need them done by is the foundation of accountability, and therefore an effective solution to the challenges we are continuing to face. 

Let’s use employee onboarding as a challenge where accountability can help. 

Coordinating orientations and onboarding plans are no easy task, especially when done virtually or when the pressure of staff shortages doesn’t allow for much training time at all. Clearly communicating who is accountable to look after your new employee and when the responsibility is passed over to someone else. There is no accountability without clear expectations set, so that should be the priority from the day the employment agreement is signed. Determine the best method of communication to set expectations with your team, whether through a group email, a text message group, or a new Teams conversation. Also don’t leave your new hire in the dark and do your best to prepare them in advance of their first day. 

A little extra communication and time taken to clarify who is playing what role in the process is key to avoiding pitfalls. 


Leading and Supporting Accountability 

HR professionals and people leaders can lead and support accountability, but how and to what degree? 

Building a culture of accountability is a great place to start. Although it is not an easy task, there are several benefits of using accountability as a strategy which makes it worthwhile to take this step back from our fast-paced world to build a new and stronger foundation. By developing and promoting a culture of accountability at your organization, you’ll be improving employee engagement through trust, transparency, communication, teamwork and critical thinking in decision making. 

Use accountability to drive results through ownership, commitment to continuous improvements and resilience. Encourage more frequent performance reviews and/or project status reports throughout the year, instead of only focusing on this annually or semi-annually. Commit time to discussing your employees’ professional and personal development plans and what each of you will be accountable for as you look ahead. 

Actionable Accountability

There’s no “foolproof” way to achieving accountability—we’re all human! There are, however, simple and effective methods for holding yourself and others accountable. Let’s break them down:

Hold yourself accountable: 

Step 1: Get clear on the required task

Step 2: Understand what a “good job” looks like

Step 3: Just do it!

Click to download PDF of the Video TestHold others accountable: 

Step 1:
Use “I notice…” statements to describe what you observe. E.g. “I notice that your progress report is three days late.”

Step 2:
Outline the goal
. E.g. “The goal is to have your progress report submitted by noon every Thursday.”

Step 3:
Request a solution. E.g. “How will you make this happen? If you need help, let me know.”

“I’ve already used the “I noticed” line with one of my managers in a coaching conversation, and it is very powerful.” – Vivo Team Learner

The Video Test is a great place to start—actively observing a person’s behaviors so you can accurately describe those behaviors.

Make a commitment to be accountable (to yourself and others) in order to achieve collective goals—ultimately creating a sustainable system.

Accountable Hypocrites

Dear Dr. Jim,

My manager can be hypocritical. What can I do to hold them accountable?

– Gurjot*


Hi Gurjot*,

This is a difficult issue. There are a couple of things going on.

I’m going to assume that what you mean is that your manager doesn’t follow through and do what they say they’re going to do, or they ask you to do things and they don’t model it. This could be a big issue because a lot of managers are very busy—they get overloaded and then they just don’t follow through on things.

Another reason may be that this manager is not very competent in what they do. But the question that you have that is most poignant is: how do I hold them accountable?

Simply, you can’t! What you want to do is engage with them in a way that they can help you get what you need.

So one of the things I recommend is that you put it in the form of: “I need some help…” You may be very clear about what you need to do, but you’re asking for help and opening up the possibility that your manager is going to respond in a helpful way.

Another way of opening up is to say: “I’m really stuck and I’m not sure what to do based on what I heard your instructions for this to be”. It’s your responsibility, and I know this is very hard, but it’s your responsibility to stay as focused as you can, to stay specific about what you need, and what you want.

This is a very difficult situation. Keep at it. And, if it’s not working, then you might want to talk to a colleague or another manager. Be proactive.

In emotional intelligence, it’s called leader assertiveness and it’s really important for us to be assertive (not aggressive) in terms of getting what we want.

I hope that’s helpful.

Thank you for the question—that’s a great one!

– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed

Team Goal Setting

Dear Dr. Jim,
Do you have any tips for team goal setting for the New Year?
– Chris*

Hi Chris,
If I was in your shoes, and I am, the number one thing that I would make clear with my team members is: what are our norms and our rules of engagement? How are we going to conduct ourselves? The things we agree on need to be unanimous because they are the rules that we’re all going to play by. Any kind of game that we play, the game of life, football, chess, whatever it is, there are rules. If you don’t follow the rules, things are going to go awry.

The second thing, I tend to like to set 90-day goals around the overarching expectations, big goals, or purpose for the team as a whole. By setting 90-day goals you can review them on an ongoing basis. If you set a goal for a whole year, it’s a really difficult thing to try to do, it’s too long a time.

So go for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, review the following: What went well? What do we need to improve on? What might we be missing? What is it that I need to do more of to help my team fulfill the goals? What would I like more of from the team? You can do this through each month up to the 90 days. Take a look at it, re-jig it depending on what’s going on, things that are happening, etc.

One of the other things to do is as a team—and this is really on the leader—if you’ve got high priority things that you need to do over the next let’s say 90 days, 120 days, 180 days, it is your responsibility to help your team stay focused on those goals and protect them from incursions from outside that may get them off track. Make sure everybody is sticking to goals. Check-in once a month, hang in there, and stay focussed.

Really important: norms and rules of engagement. Discipline. Discipline gives you freedom. That’s one of the absolute aspects of life. The more disciplined one is, the more freedom you’re going to experience. Tough to do. Hang in there, take care.

– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed

Stand Up!

Hi Dr. Jim,
I hadn’t anticipated how totally stationary I would be while working from home. My back hurts and I gained weight. It’s taking a toll on my motivation. Help!


Jean-Claude, I’m with ya!
When I start working on the computer I can just slump into working and blinking and not get up. Here’s what I try to do. I set a goal of what I want to accomplish month-to-month, in terms of some kind of exercise, and try to reach 80-90% of that.

The next thing I do is every 35 minutes I stand up and get away from the computer for a short time. Also, when I get to the point where I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I’m wasting my time, I just get up and go for a little trip around the house to snap out of it.

When we are working remotely we also start snacking on stuff. I have a chocolate bar in the fridge right now, I haven’t been eating it for the last two days because I gotta discipline myself. Discipline equals freedom equals health! Hang in there, get disciplined, have a good time.
– Dr. Jim

*names have been changed