4 Power tips to create a culture of accountability and psychological safety

A recruiter recently asked me what would be my ideal culture for a new job. Being a driver, I was quick to answer that I am looking for a culture of accountability. And being a champion for equity, I added that I want to work in a place where employees feel safe and valued for their contribution.  While I was not looking to change the job, I kept thinking about my ideal work culture.

Holding people accountable is crucial for an organization’s growth and viability, but without psychological safety, it can create an environment characterized by high anxiety and burnout. See the picture below adopted from Amy C. Edmondson’s research on psychological safety.

So how do we get to the zone of learning?

This where you expect excellence, but reward efforts. Simply put, this is your Zone of Excellence and high performance. 

1. Set clear expectations

  • Leaders define and communicate what are their exact expectations from the employees along with a clear understanding of timelines.
  • Whether it is for a new project or an existing workflow, it is imperative to define the clear role of each involved party. Consider these questions. Who is ultimately accountable for what? Are there clear boundaries between the roles?
  • Being said that, strategic leaders invest in building trust, where team members are rather committed to the project’s success and feel comfortable switching roles as needed.

2. Measure performance against defined metrics instead of feelings.

  • Leaders define what success looks like for the employees. Having a top-notch JD is great but not at all enough.
  • High performing leaders set up key performance metrics (KPI) for each role. It clarifies the degree to which the employee is supposed to do something.

3. Model curiosity and problem-solving culture.

  • Senior leaders promote asking questions openly. Saying “I don’t know” is rewarded instead of “know it all” judgmental attitude. There is a focus on continuous learning and problem solving through inquiry and transparency.
  • They model vulnerability and talk human to human. They take personal responsibility for their shortcomings and mistakes instead of creating a zero-sum culture where mistakes are feared. Failures are treated as learning opportunities for improvements.

4. Give effective feedback.

  • Leaders create a culture of continuous feedback up, down, and laterally across the organization for the sole purpose of learning and doing better next time.

Finally, my friends, “If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself”