How to Create a Culture of Accountability and Integrity

How to Create a Culture of Accountability and Integrity
By Birgit Zacher Hanson, M.S.,  Heads-Up Performance, Inc.


Looking to Go From “Good to Great?”  Start Here.

In his best seller “From Good to Great,” Jim Collins states that companies that make the jump from being good to being great feature a “Culture of Discipline.”

“Sustained great results depend upon building a culture full of self-disciplined people who take disciplined action…”  he says.

The foundation of a culture of discipline is personal responsibility and accountability.

In my experience as an executive and team development coach, I find a lack of personal accountability at epidemic levels in Tampa companies. 

Do You Have a Culture of Victims?

“I could have done it, if I’d had more time, someone to help me or a faster computer.…”

Things don’t get done right or on time, and the list of excuses is endless.

People usually blame outside circumstances or other people. Rarely does anyone think of him- or herself as lacking accountability. 

And yet so many people do. 

Last week a client called in 15 minutes late for our scheduled call and said, “I was talking to this guy and he didn’t let me go.” 

I asked him how “this guy” managed to keep him hostage. 

Once my client realized the silliness of his statement, he quickly reframed it by saying: “I chose to stay on the phone, and I’m sorry for being late.” 

I acknowledged him for taking personal responsibility for his lateness rather than casually blaming it on someone else. 

The Easy Way Out

We don’t have to be victims of our circumstances. 

So why do so many continue to blame the traffic for being late, the economy for a decrease in sales and other people for their own lack of follow-through? 

It’s easier to act like a victim than to take personal responsibility and be accountable.  As a victim, I am by definition not accountable.

“It’s not my fault” is what’s implied or actually said.  When things aren’t working out the way I’d like them to, I can blame it on something or someone else without having to examine my role in the breakdown. 

“Accounting was supposed to give us those numbers.”  Consequently, I don’t have to change or take any actions outside of my comfort zone.  I get to complain and whine.

And along with the victim perspective comes a feeling of entitlement.  “Someone should fix this problem.  Someone (else) should talk to Accounting!”

Greatness does not take the easy way out. 

As management consultant Fred Kofman says, “The price of innocence is impotence.”

Integrity is the Key

Senior managers and human resources professionals are working together to find appropriate ways to address this issue. 

Teambuilding, time management classes, communications and leadership training all address part of this problem, but they typically don’t get to the core of it.

Personal accountability is not a time management issue – it’s a matter of integrity

It’s about doing what you say you are going to do and taking full responsibility for following through on your own promises. 

Unlike the common belief that integrity is something you either have or don’t, we believe integrity can be taught by breaking it down into small, manageable pieces. 

Only Accept a Clear Response

For example, say person A makes a request of person B: “Could you get me the Jones report by Wednesday?” 

Person B might say, “Let me see what I can do.”  In most organizations A typically accepts this answer.  Unfortunately, A won’t know if the promise will be fulfilled until Wednesday arrives since B’s response lacked clarity.

To maximize the likelihood that their exchange will have integrity, A should accept only one of these four responses:

1.  Yes – “I will.” 

2.  No – “No.”

3.  Counter offer – “How about if I give it to you by Friday

4.  Commit to respond at a future time – “I can’t answer
confidently at this time.  I will respond by X (a specific

If the answer is “yes” or a counteroffer is negotiated, the person is making a promise. 

Once that promise is made it better be taken seriously.  Every kid can tell you that breaking promises is a bad thing.  It not only affects performance (because you didn’t do what you promised), it also hurts your relationship with others and makes you feel bad about yourself. 

Keeping vs. Honoring Promises

Most adults don’t like to disappoint others or themselves, and they avoid making promises out of fear that something might come up, something they couldn’t predict or control. 

And that often happens. 

Life has a way of interfering with our plans, and sometimes, regardless of how good our intentions are, we can’t fulfill a promise we made. 

There is a solution to that problem.  It’s the distinction between “keeping” and “honoring” one’s promises. 

While we can’t always keep a promise, we can at least honor it. 

For example, if I promised the Jones report by Wednesday but realize Monday I can’t deliver it on time, I call on Monday and renegotiate to establish a new deadline. 

Or, if I forgot all about it and it’s already Thursday, I take personal responsibility for the impact my broken promise had on the other person and I go the extra mile to repair any damage it might have caused, rather than ignoring the whole thing and hoping nobody noticed or brings it up!

You cannot always keep all your promises, but you can always honor them.

Acting with integrity and taking personal responsibility isn’t always easy or comfortable.  However, it is a performance driver that can be learned and needs to be treated as such.

Start at the Top

If you’re thinking: “Ya, my people need this stuff.  They need to learn to be more accountable,” think again.

As leader, you are the most important determinant of your company’s culture. 

A company cannot outperform the limits of its leadership.   That is, your company can’t perform better than you do.

Are you clear in your requests and promises?  Do you honor your word? 

Pay attention to those questions for the next two days and see what you notice.

(If you don’t have the discipline to do this exercise, you can’t expect to have a “Culture of Discipline.”)


For more information on the complete integrity and accountability system, contact Birgit Zacher Hanson, MS, co-author of Who Will Do What by When? How to Improve Performance, Accountability and Trust with Integrity, at 813-963-6224, or visit