The whole point of accountability inside your organization is living up to your promises - to each other, to your customers.
The thing that kills accountability is rarely a lack of audit. Many organizations have adopted the stance of “trust but verify.” But when you look at how they create accountability inside their organization, you realize they intend the word “trust” with a wink. The power is all behind their act of verifying.
What these organizations don’t realize is that the thing that kills accountability is a lack of unambiguous inspiration, not a lack of verification.
Unambiguous means starting with good promises that are aligned to your mission and values and supported by your resources at every level. It also means that everyone who has a part in delivering on the promise has a clear understanding of exactly what has been promised and their role in delivering it.
Inspiration means that it’s not about punishment. It’s about an invitation to love the promises your teams are delivering on together. This is not a naive invitation underwritten by unlimited loyalty or unlimited patience, but a serious invitation to care deeply about each other and the customer.
This view of accountability helps to better understand the gap that opens between the people who make the promises for your organization and the people who do the work to deliver on those promises.
If you believe you have an accountability problem in your organization, don’t try to solve it by doubling down on the “trust but verify” approach (which only leads to more layers of verifying). Instead, ask yourself how good your promises are. Where in the organization do they disconnect from your mission, values, or resources? Ask employees how much they love the promises of your organization. How important is it to them that your organization delivers on its promises?
With this understanding of accountability, it becomes clear that it is more often endangered from the top, down than from the bottom, up.