Linda Galindo is a speaker, educator, and author who works with corporations around the world to improve accountability. I asked her to discuss accountability at all levels in corporate culture in the United States.

JATHAN JANOVE: How are America’s companies doing on accountability?


JJ: Why do you think they aren’t doing well?

LG: Not being accountable is being rewarded more than being accountable.

JJ: How so?

LG: Let’s say you’re a manager. You can spend time teaching, nurturing, and developing your employees. Or you can hit your quarterly targets. What do you do? The answer is obvious. When something goes wrong with an employee, you put in a quick fix rather than a long-term solution. I call it, “rescue, fix, and save.”

JJ: But aren’t managers and executives evaluated according to their ability to develop and retain talent?

LG: If you look at most performance evaluation forms for management, they include developing and retaining employees. In reality, however, it’s still hitting your numbers and meeting the immediate deadlines that get the reward. Thus, even when a manager has done nothing to develop or retain talent, a manager who hits the numbers and meets the deadlines, still gets a raise.

JJ:  What are the consequences of this short-term focus?

LG: One is that we punish our best performers. We assign them the work underperformers aren’t doing. This causes talent burnout. Then watch out when the economy improves.

Another consequence is reverse delegation. To hit those short-term targets, instead of addressing the employee problem, the manager simply does the underperformer’s work. His or her time is thus spent doing the work versus coaching, mentoring, and developing others to do it.

JJ: Is this a problem only at certain levels of management such as with new supervisors?

LG: No, it’s a problem at all levels—regardless of position and number of years of experience.

Here’s an example: At a board of directors’ retreat, I ran into the CEO late one evening at the hotel. He was holding a pile of papers and seemed agitated.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

He said, “There’s a problem. One of my VPs messed up a part of the presentation for tomorrow’s board meeting. I’m going back to my hotel room to fix it.”

“What’s his room number?” I asked.

The CEO looked at me in astonishment. “Why do you ask?”

I said, “If there’s a problem with what he did, let’s go knock on his door and tell him to fix it.”

The CEO looked at me like I was crazy. Instead, he scurried off to his hotel room to use the approach he still uses—rescue, fix, and save.

JJ: If non-accountability is the norm and accountability is the exception, how do you change that pattern?

LG: As a manager or executive, the question to ask yourself is: “Have I allowed this to happen?” If so, make a commitment to yourself to stop the enabling pattern.

The next time you’re faced with a performance or behavior that falls below expectations, the first question to ask yourself is: “Have I been clear?” If you haven’t been clear, hold yourself accountable.

Accountability starts with you, not your employee.

But if you have made yourself clear, hold your employee accountable. This doesn’t mean punishment or discipline. It means making very clear what the expectations were, what the results were, and why it’s necessary that things change going forward.

JJ: Is there an approach you recommend that managers use?

LG: Yes. I call it the “Clear Agreement.” It consists of asking the following questions:

  1. What have I agreed to?
  2. What outcome do I expect?
  3. What resources are needed?
  4. What are the consequences of failure?
  5. What are the benefits of success?

JJ: Is the Clear Agreement best used with problem employees?

LG: No! On the contrary, it’s best used with high performers. The Clear Agreement is not a hammer; it’s a resource.

JJ: Won’t there be inherent suspicion that the agreement is disciplinary?

LG: Not if you explain it properly. Point out that the agreement doesn’t reflect a lack of trust in your employees. It reflects a lack of trust in yourself. That’s why you have to get things absolutely clear.

JJ: Is there a connection between accountability and employee engagement?

LG: Absolutely! Accountable organizations tell their talent, “You’re in a desirable, long-term situation. We will be totally accountable with you and we hope you will be totally accountable with us. That way, together we can create value and build a lasting organization.”

A culture that embraces personal accountability creates the optimal environment for talent to flourish and not want to leave for all the right reasons.

JJ: Is there a price to be paid for transitioning to a culture that embraces and rewards personal accountability?

LG: Unfortunately, yes. During the transition, you will not be popular because you will likely have to remove some people from positions they have held for a long time. If you conduct employee engagement surveys, don’t be surprised if your score plunges. In fact, if it doesn’t, your commitment is probably not sincere.

But persevere. If you stay the course, those scores will eventually soar. It will take unshakable determination, starting with your company’s highest-ranking executive. Yet the outcomes will be profound.

What’s the level of accountability in your organization? What’s being done to improve it?