Are You Nurturing Universal Accountability?

If you’re familiar with Reviewsnap you know we’ve enthusiastically championed performance appraisals for nearly 20 years. In our view, performance appraisals are essential to the steady growth and development of your workforce. Handled correctly, appraisals also instill accountability in your people—accountability for reaching specific goals and targets, for developing their knowledge and skill sets, and for proactively advancing their careers.


It’s a core precept of good performance management. It also happens to be one of the distinguishing features of high-performance teams, as highlighted by a May 30 post on the Harvard Business Review blog, “The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable.” The author of the post, Joseph Grenny, pulled no punches when offering this succinct observation regarding the teams he’s studied:

·      In the weakest teams, there is no accountability.

·      In mediocre teams, bosses are the source of accountability.

·      In high performance teams, peers manage the vast majority of performance problems with one another.

Although Grenny refers to accountability in relation to performance problems, the best teams not only hold themselves accountable for resolving their differences but their team members also take personal responsibility for improving innovation, responsiveness, customer service and other key performance indicators valued by their companies.

As Grenny points out, the results these teams deliver include greater innovation, trust and productivity. One of the author’s clients, a successful financial services company with superior peer accountability, enjoyed “an unparalleled return on capital, breathtaking sales growth, and the highest customer renewal rate in the industry.”

In his post, Grenny also offers five insightful tips for creating a culture of universal accountability. Two of these tips are setting expectations and calling out positive examples of behaviors you value—two of the most important things your mangers can do when holding performance appraisals with their direct reports.

This brings us to a rather obvious question: if the best teams hold themselves accountable, why do you have to bother with performance reviews and building cultures of accountability? The answer is equally obvious: even if your best teams hold themselves accountable instinctively, your organization should publicly support this quality and make it an official performance objective. Managers should talk about accountability in team meetings and during reviews. It’s the only way to engender accountability in all of your teams, not just your best teams. And that’s the real goal—superior accountability throughout the organization, from top to bottom.

Obviously, your managers will have to go on acting as the source of accountability for many of your teams, at least for a while. But with patience and dedicated guidance, they’ll gradually sow the seeds of greater accountability. In time, they’ll be able to step away from acting as “accountability cops” and do more of what you want them to do—namely, to manage their functions strategically.