Accountability – An individual trait or a cultural mandate?


Multiple studies over the years have shown that accountability has a strong impact on organisational performance. Understandably, most organisations are therefore, striving towards increasing the level of accountability in their employees. We talked to a few MDs, CEOs and HR Heads to understand their thoughts on accountability and what they were doing to increase the extent to which it is demonstrated.


A few said accountability needs to be assessed during the hiring process. Those showing the required skills and demonstrating a high level of accountability should be hired, while those who seem to shirk responsibility should ideally not be considered for any position in the organisation.

According to these leaders, accountable employees make an accountable organisation.

Some others said that it had to be taught at a cultural level. Such leaders run organisation-wide initiatives to explain what it means to be accountable and how one should behave accountably in different situations. They also run training programs for people managers at various levels in the organisation so that they can work on building an accountable culture within their teams.

Based on this view, an accountable culture results in accountable employees.

Interestingly, one CEO mentioned that no matter how hard one tries, one cannot rely on employees to be accountable. She said that to ensure people took ownership and that deliverables were completed on time, very strict processes needed to be implemented.

It is the processes and not the people that drive accountability in the organisation, in her opinion.

Through our research, our interactions with leaders of organisations of various kinds and our own consulting experience, we found that an accountable organisation is formed through five major influencers or drivers. Together, these five drivers, if demonstrated correctly, have the ability to enhance the level of accountability in the organisation. However, if any of the drivers are not demonstrated as expected, it has the ability to single-handedly bring down the level of accountability, by subtly encouraging employees to behave in a non-accountable fashion.

The different drivers are:

Leader Driven Accountability – The extent to which the manager’s presence and behaviour influences accountability in employees.

Culture Driven Accountability – The extent to which the culture of an organisation, along with its unspoken rules and implications, influences the accountability levels of its employees.

Person Driven Accountability – The extent to which employees in the organisation take ownership of their own goals, their team’s goals and the goals of the organisation

Process Driven Accountability – The extent to which performance is driven by fixed processes in the organisation and not by individual moods, personalities and productivity levels

Consequence Driven Accountability – The extent to which penalties and punishments or rewards and incentives influence the level of accountability shown by employees.

We found that each of these five drivers could further be broken down into sub-drivers, or specific perceivable behaviours that determined whether or not the driver was enhancing or pulling down the level of accountability in the organisation.

As the drivers indicate, it is not enough to hire accountable employees, or to teach different ways of building an accountable culture, or even to come up with strict rules or processes to ensure on-time, high quality deliverables. Accountable employees may stop behaving accountably if at a culture or consequence level, they do not see the benefit of doing so. Similarly, processes may not be able to drive accountability in a sustained manner amongst the employees, unless they see their leaders practicing and promoting the same. In order to influence the levels of accountability, organisations must be aware of which drivers and sub-drivers have a positive impact on accountability in the organisation and therefore must be leveraged upon, and which ones need to be developed or altered to reduce their negative effects on the behaviour of employees.

The first step to fixing the problem is to identify it.

Organisations tend to try a variety of interventions, without seeing a visible impact in the level of accountability, primarily because the driver(s) responsible for the current level have not been identified. The Performance Accountability Index (PAI) is a short 50 statement survey that can be administered to all the employees in an organisation to determine the drivers and sub-drivers that help enhance the level of accountability and those that bring it down. It also indicates how each of these drivers appear to be interacting with each other to influence the behaviour of the employees. This allows for targeted interventions to be carried out on the parts of the organisation that require it, increasing the chances of a successful increase in the level of accountability and therefore, in the performance of the organisation.

So, individual trait or cultural mandate?

One’s individual inclination towards behaving accountably combined with leaders who provide clarity and practice what they preach, processes that provide direction, cultural guidelines that value employees doing their work well and on time, and a system that recognises and rewards accountable behaviour, all work together to create an accountable organisation. Trying to define it as one or the other will most definitely result in crucial parts of accountability being missed out.

For more information on how to run PAI in your organisation, or for ideas on how to build a more accountable organisation, contact us at

Is accountability at your organization an individual trait or a cultural mandate? Let’s ensure it’s both. Start transforming your workplace culture—reach out now for a consultation!

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