Accountability and trust cannot be built through good intentions

July 04. 2018

Build Capability. Unleash Performance

July 4th, 2018


Organizations too often rely on the good intentions of leaders to live and model organizational values but fail to systemically create the conditions to establish accountability and trust.

When preparing to meet with a potential client for the first time, I visit the organization’s website to review its stated vision, strategy & values. Typically, high on the list, are the values of trust and accountability. Often much effort is invested by these organizations to socialize these values as fundamental to their culture. But when I begin work in these organizations, I have observed that these values are more aspirational than evident.  Organizations too often rely on the good intentions of leaders to live and model these values but fail to systemically create the conditions to establish accountability and trust. Senior leaders can be more deliberate in creating the conditions which establish trust and accountability by considering the following:


  1. Design the organization to support trust and accountability.On average 56 %* of roles in organizations are misaligned. In assessing the effectiveness of an organization’s design, we commonly see many of the following misalignment:
  • Roles which do not support the strategy
  • Roles which overlap
  • Work duplication within or between departments
  • Employees who don’t understand their work requirements and role accountabilities
  • Managers undertaking work that should be performed lower in the organization i.e. “management is in the weeds”
  • Managers too far removed from the work of their employees and therefore cannot add value to the work of their team

These misalignments can manifest themselves in under performance for the overall organization and for individuals, missed deliverables, lower productivity i.e. finger pointing or extra time and effort to coordinate work.  Under these conditions, it is the “misalignment” of the work structure which leads to a lack of trust and accountability within the team.  Senior leaders need to ensure that all employees have clear accountabilities, are doing the right work, understand can see how they contribute to the organization’s success.


  1. Select the right people for each role.While this may seem obvious, too often we see individuals misaligned to their roles. These individuals may not have the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the role, are either too senior or too junior to be effective in the role, or they simply no longer value the work they are tasked to do in their role. In other words, instead of selecting the right person for the role, too often managers settle for the wrong candidate or unfortunately design a role around an individual at the cost of not designing the role to support the strategy.

The right candidate must have appropriate capabilities, as well as, interest in the work. The hiring manager and manager-once-removed (boss’s boss) should agree on the candidate.  The manager must select the individual he/she believes is capable of doing the job.  The manager-once-removed agrees but with a consideration for the candidate’s fit longer term within the organization.


  1. Give people the accountability and authority to fulfill their roles.A wide variety of engagement studies have shown us the connections between employee engagement and productivity/shareholder value. Many in the engagement industry have also identified the establishment of accountability and trust as foundational to creating a highly engaged workforce.  Well designed roles with clear accountabilities and clear decision-making authorities will create a work system that drives high performance and builds trust. Frequently, we see organizations that impose misguided limits for decision-making authority on roles. Often these limits are imposed in the name of “risk management or financial controls e.g. to limit the high cost of increased headcount”. The attempt to push authority higher up in the organization diminishes individual authority, trust, accountability, and lowers employee engagement.

So, how does a leader create a work system that has clear accountabilities and aligned authorities for all roles? Leaders can keep things simple by considering the following when (re)designing their structures:

  • Establish accountabilities appropriate to the levels of work in all roles
  • Select people whose capability matches the complexity of the work as defined in their role
  • Assign decision-making authorities to each role commensurate with the role accountabilities
  • Identify and remove artificial limits to authority


  1. Actively manage accountability.Being accountable simply means that someone must answer for actions or decisions made. Building accountability mechanisms into roles helps institutionalize trust. Organizations that have established a clear system for accountability thrive and outperform other types of organizations. There are common work practices that should be adopted in every organization to build a culture of accountability and trust:
  • Every employee must keep their manager informed of progress on assigned tasks, with enough time to take corrective action, if things go off track. Trust is strengthened when all employees at all levels understand this obligation.
  • All managers provide training, coaching, and feedback, to ensure their employees are fully capable of carrying out their current roles and therefore can be relied upon to fulfill their accountabilities and authorities.
  • Managers-once-removed (the boss’s boss) must ensure their direct report managers are effective and treat all employees fairly. They must meet with and understand the aspirations of employees two levels down and ensure development plans are in place. Additionally, managers-once-removed must ensure the organization, and roles within, are properly structured and aligned to the constantly evolving requirements of the business.

Putting these four practices in place creates an organization where the culture is open, and an environment of trust exists among all employees. Establishing a strong culture of accountability and trust does not happen based on good intentions of individuals. By marrying the right organization structure, with the right roles, the right people, and the right practices a leader can take the guess work out of the equation and create a culture of accountability, trust, and high engagement.

COREinternational works with executives to unleash human capability. We identify challenges that hinder growth. Our processes and tools increase productivity by creating a structure that ensures people are working to the right level of complexity. Our insights align structure, leadership and strategy to transform your business, and accelerate profitable, sustainable results.

If you would like to learn more about our approach and time-tested design principles, explore our website or contact Mike Brush directly: 

Michael Brush, Partner


Phone:  416- 977-2673 ext. 13

*Based on data collected over 20 years of practice.

And please, contact us to let us know what you think…

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