How To Create a Culture of Accountability

When Tribe Global Ventures invests, we work had to support the company scale locally and into the UK and/or the US. This inevitably means growing the team of people accountable for achieving results. But accountability means different things to different people, and even if we agree on the definition, how do you create a culture that drives accountability for agreed results?  


Many methodologies use the words responsible and accountable interchangeably. This causes problems. Accountability starts with being responsible. “I am/ you are responsible for this task/function/result” is the beginning of what is required for a culture of accountability.

Some methodologies use an organisational chart type structure and call it a chart of accountability. A clear org chart is important, and we recommend to assist with visualising and sharing it.

However whilst being clear on who is responsible for what is required, it is not sufficient if you want to hold people truly accountable. 

Firstly, are they actually capable to do it? If you have someone in a role that actually isn’t capable, can you really hold them accountable? 

Now even if they are capable, a side warning. If you give someone multiple responsibilities that are conflicting in terms of short and long term, effectiveness and efficiency focus: short term effectiveness always wins. Putting food on the table tonight comes at the expense of longer term aspirations if food isn’t available right now. That’s all you can really focus on and do. 

So be careful when blending roles and responsibilities that have conflicting time and focus orientation, and use a recipe fit for purpose for designing the structure. The classic example is “Sales and Marketing Manager”. Little true marketing gets done, because we need sales, sales, sales! Even though M comes before S in the alphabet, we say sales first because sales keeps the lights on. At best, the marketing that is occuring is sales support activities. 

But for this blog, lets say they are capable and there are no role conflicts. What else? 


You have someone that can do the role technically, and fits the values and behaviours etc or the organisation. 

You hire them but don’t give them the authority to make the decisions required for them to achieve their results. They have to keep coming back to ask for permission on basic things. They get tied up in red tape of slow process. A committee is required to sign off on too many things. 

How can you hold them accountable if they can’t do what they need to get the results? 

In all early stage businesses it is normal and desired that the authority is concentrated at the top. Don’t let anyone make your feel bad. It has to be… to start with. However as you grow you have to start to cascade authority in a controlled manner. You can’t hold someone responsible for results if they can’t make the decisions and investments required to achieve those results. They can’t move fast if everything requires a committee. 

But be careful.  Delegation without the right systems and processes is abdication, and abdication leads to bankruptcy. We help our portfolio companies get the timing and sequence right, and why we run events such as Organisational Structure for Rapid Growth.

Reward Systems

Ok so you have a competent person, who is clear on the role and what they are responsible for, and they have the authority to make the decisions required to achieve the results, supported by the systems and controls to ensure delegating authority doesn’t lead to anarchy and screws ups.

Job done? No.

“Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome” is the common saying.

If the reward systems in the organisation don’t drive the right focus and behaviours, you’re going to have an accountability problem. People will tend to default to self interest most of the time. Not just bad people- all people. We are human and it is what we do. We will mostly move towards things we like or prefer doing at the expense of things that “need” to be done if there is no positive and/or negative reward system to help guide focus and intent. 

Even it they aren’t defined, there are positive and negative reward systems operating in every business. Most of these reward systems have nothing to do with money. Setting up the reward systems, on the back of measurement systems, is critical if you want a truly accountable culture.

An Analogy 

You want someone to run a 100m race in 10 seconds (their responsibility). Your in a hurry and find someone that’s missing a leg. What’s the outcome going to be? You need someone that is actually capable of running 100m in 10 seconds. 

Once you notice the missing leg, you find someone that is a natural sprinter, and capable of running 100m in 10 seconds. 

But your tie up their legs. Put a blind fold on them. Don’t give them food or water. What’s the outcome if they can’t do what they have been asked? 

So you untie them and give them what they need. 

But at the end of the race they are going to get hit over the head with a cricket bat. If they don’t run the race the way you want them to run it, even if they achieve 10 seconds, you yell at them. Is the potential brain damage and getting yelled at worth it? Nah.

But if at the end of the race they will get a nice little trophy and a bonus, and they like trophies and bonuses, they will probably be excited to give it everything they can. 

Now we know they ran 10 seconds because we have the transparent measurement and reporting systems for all to see. 

Accountability = Responsibility+ Authority + Rewards 

“I knew what my responsibility was, I was empowered to carry it out, I knew what my rewards would be, so I pushed hard”.

If any ingredient is missing, the only person you can hold accountable is yourself. That is not scalable. 

If your methodology has you concentrating on responsibility and an org chart, you’ll be frustrated in the end.

Don’t think of just an “org structure”. Think of an “org power structure“. A true power structure is where the ingredients reinforce each other to achieve the accountable outcome.  The more power you have, the further and faster you can go.

About the Author

Portfolio Support & Co-founder

Don brings extensive experience as a founder and investor to lead our hands-on support for portfolio ventures.