Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Building a Culture of Accountability

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Guest post by Fred Halstead

 Accountability can be thought of as a punitive word with an implied threat-as in “I’m going to hold you accountable.” Yet, when you think about holding someone accountability, it is actually a measure of your respect for them and the high expectations you have for them.

Throughout the past 38 years, first as an executive search consultant and then as an executive coach, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of executives. During those years, I began to see what leaders do that leads to accountable cultures. Consistently holding your people accountable is indeed a sign of respect. People who are respected, respond by respecting the person respecting them.


These are the five key elements that can help you build a culture of consistent accountability:

Commitment and Trust—Teams that demonstrate a high level of consistent accountability correspondingly develop a high level of trust in each other. A great team becomes high-performing when there is full trust–and trust is built on everyone doing what they say they will do in the time they said they will do it. In four words: Everyone Keeps Their Commitments.

Clear Expectations—We all have experienced times when we thought it was clear that we said X was going to be done in Y time period and the person most responsible (PMR) was equally clear that s/he was going to do Z or X +2 in the W time period. Expectations have the highest chance to be met when the person clearly says what they will do and when it will be completed.

Understanding the nuances of who should do the work and willingness to stretch them—Take into consideration who is best able to do the work and who needs to grow and be stretched by doing the work. Willingness to take some thoughtful risks by asking someone who will have to stretch their abilities to be successful, pays substantial dividends.  

Measure Results and Set Timelines—You may be surprised at the results when you ask the PMR for accomplishing the goal what timeline makes the most sense rather than setting it yourself.  When the PMR sets the timeline, he or she owns it.  If the timeline the PMR sets does not make sense to you, simply ask a question that will expose the problem with the timeline–Such as: “What will be the implications for ___ or on ___, if that is the timeline?

Asking the PMR What are the Consequences of Failure? It is essential that we all understand why it is in our personal best interest to do what we say and do it well. To help the PMR put into his or her own words and really understand the consequences for failure to complete the assignment, ask the person: “What will be the consequences for you and for the organization of not getting this done successfully in the time you have laid out?”

Building a culture of accountability is difficult because effectively instilling accountability within a team requires consistency on many levels. Day-in and day-out you must first be accountable and consistent with your commitments to your team as the leader, and then you must be consistent in holding your people to their commitments. And, you will inspire a tremendous cultural change and see how using every one of these actionable elements demonstrates your respect for and belief in others and results in a soaring level of success for you and for those you lead.

Questions: Do you have a culture of accountability in your organization? How do you measure results? Please leave a comment in the space below.


Fred Halstead is the founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching, author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results, and creator of the performance-enhancing leadership program, Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR). He specializes in coaching highly successful CEOs and senior-level executives who are open to positive change and wish to increase their abilities as great leaders.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers that hold their teams accountable gain their trust over time. The key to doing this effectively is to let them make their own estimates and then get their buy-in and commitments based on what they have decided. After that you work with them and make sure you remove any roadblocks you can, and then hold them, and yourself, accountable.

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