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How to Use Performance Management to Create a Culture of Accountability

Woman and man having a performance management meeting.

Every busi­ness wants to cre­ate a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty, so here’s how to do it using per­for­mance management

Cre­at­ing a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty means cre­at­ing a busi­ness where every­one takes respon­si­bil­i­ty, every­one acknowl­edges their mis­takes, and every­one is will­ing to learn from their mis­takes. It might sound like rose-tint­ed think­ing, an idea which is too good to be true. How­ev­er, with the right per­for­mance man­age­ment approach, you can cre­ate a gen­uine cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty in your business.

1. Lead by example

Cre­at­ing a cul­ture of respon­si­bil­i­ty — or any kind of work­place cul­ture — starts at the top. Man­ag­ing your­self is the hard­est part of any per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem, and that’s pre­cise­ly why it’s so impor­tant. If you are part of the lead­er­ship team, the cul­ture of the busi­ness starts and ends with you. So, if you want to cre­ate account­abil­i­ty cul­ture, you also need to take accountability.

The first thing you need to take account­abil­i­ty for is recog­nis­ing that there isn’t an account­abil­i­ty cul­ture in the busi­ness and being hon­est about the rea­sons for that. The fact that you want to cre­ate a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty is great, so start by recog­nis­ing the role that you and your lead­er­ship team have played in not instill­ing this cul­ture. You are ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for every­thing your com­pa­ny does.

Now that you’ve accept­ed this, take note of what you’ve learned. Fig­ure out what you and your fel­low lead­ers have done which has cre­at­ed a work­place cul­ture you don’t like. Think about all of the things you’ve said, goals you’ve set, behav­iours you’ve demon­strat­ed and peo­ple you’ve hired. Going back over your deci­sions like this will help to make things clearer.

2. Hire a team that believes in accountability

Even if your busi­ness already has a sta­ble team of many peo­ple, the next per­son you hire has the poten­tial to com­plete­ly rein­vent or dis­rupt your work­place cul­ture. This can be a great thing or a bad thing depend­ing entire­ly on who you hire, whether their val­ues are aligned with those of the organ­i­sa­tion, what role you give them, and what kind of per­for­mance man­age­ment you use.

With every step of the onboard­ing process — the job descrip­tion, the post­ing, the inter­view, and the train­ing — you will have the chance to be clear about your company’s val­ues. So, if the aim is to cre­ate a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty, let any poten­tial employ­ee know how impor­tant this is to you.

Equal­ly, make any poten­tial new employ­ee show you how impor­tant this cul­ture is to them by ask­ing them about their fail­ures and how they over­came them. If they’re seri­ous about account­abil­i­ty cul­ture, they’ll be able to answer those ques­tions by show­ing that they took respon­si­bil­i­ty and learned from each of their failures.

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3. Ditch annu­al appraisals

The next step in cre­at­ing a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty with per­for­mance man­age­ment is action­able, prac­ti­cal, and straight­for­ward: stop doing annu­al appraisals. They are expen­sive, stress­ful, unnec­es­sary and — worst of all — they don’t encour­age account­abil­i­ty or improve per­for­mance. One poll found that as many as 98% of busi­ness­es found annu­al appraisals unnec­es­sary.

With so many peo­ple against annu­al appraisals, the call to drop them seems like a straw man argu­ment, yet our own sur­vey found that 65% of busi­ness­es are still using annu­al appraisals.

Ros­a­beth Moss Kan­ter said way back in 2009 that the tools of account­abil­i­ty — data, details, met­rics, mea­sure­ment, analy­ses, charts, tests, assess­ments, per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions — are neu­tral.” In oth­er words, they don’t in them­selves cre­ate account­abil­i­ty, it is the cul­ture that sur­rounds them that does. Rely­ing too heav­i­ly on these tools can breed a cul­ture of blame and lack of trust, which inhibits rather than encour­ages accountability.

Dur­ing an annu­al review, you are very aware that you won’t have this con­ver­sa­tion again for anoth­er year and that your pay may depend on what you say. As such, the pres­sure you will feel to demon­strate your suc­cess­es will be so intense that you’ll be reluc­tant to accept fail­ures or mistakes.

Worse still, because an annu­al review is lim­it­ed to once a year, you might not remem­ber those mis­takes by the time your appraisal comes around. Even if you do, it won’t be clear­ly — the mem­o­ry will be dis­tort­ed too heav­i­ly by your own bias.

The result is the exact oppo­site of a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty and the appear­ance that every­thing is fine. HR writer Susan M. Heath­field quipped how, in one busi­ness she worked in, an annu­al appraisal gave 96% of staff the same out­stand­ing” rat­ing. No-one want­ed to take account­abil­i­ty for the neg­a­tives of that year because the con­se­quence would mean being in that dread­ed 4%.

4. Use con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance management

Not all per­for­mance man­age­ment is cre­at­ed equal. When peo­ple talk about killing per­for­mance reviews, what peo­ple are nor­mal­ly refer­ring to is the annu­al appraisal. This sys­tem — with its forms, its weeks of prepa­ra­tion, and its once-a-year cycle — is inher­ent­ly flawed.

Con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance man­age­ment, on the oth­er hand, is not a per­for­mance review; it is per­for­mance man­age­ment that works. More than that, it’s the kind of per­for­mance man­age­ment which can cre­ate a cul­ture of accountability.

Through check­ing in with your employ­ees at reg­u­lar inter­vals, through focus­ing more on prag­mat­ic next steps rather than an arbi­trary score, you can bet­ter encour­age employ­ees to be open about their fail­ures, to be account­able for them and learn from them. It’s eas­i­er to accept that you’ve made a mis­take in a reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tion where the aim is to help you to improve and learn rather than give you a rating.

Clear Review’s per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware has helped some of the world’s biggest busi­ness­es to imple­ment a cul­ture of account­abil­i­ty. Book a free per­for­mance man­age­ment soft­ware demo today to see how Clear Review’s soft­ware can help your business.