In my last article (March 16-April 5, 2009, page 19), I discussed the concept of accountability. In this article, I want to explain how to implement a culture of accountability and the barriers that can stop you from being successful.

I have found the following to be the five most common errors that firms make when trying to create a culture of accountability.

1. Let's make it a checklist. Accountants love checklists. It seems that a checklist is the answer to all our problems.

2. Just create a list of obligations. If we just outline what people have to do, they will do it.

3. Capture more production information. This trap assumes that accountability is all about production - charge and billable hours, realization, book of business, etc.

4. Tinker with the compensation formula. This will surely change behavior, wont it? All we have to do is threaten some of the partners.

5. No clear framework. You can't construct a strong building unless you have a solid foundation and framework. The same applies to accounting firms. If the firm has no vision, mission, standards of performance, performance management system, structure, policies or systems, how can it expect to have a culture of accountability?

Each one of these traps ignores the real meaning of accountability - "the obligation to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."


At the next firm partners' meeting, ask your partners these questions:

How would you explain the way we do things around here?

What are our standards for behavior?

Do we act as Lone Rangers or are we part of a team?

What shared goals do we have?

What shared values do we have?

How aligned are we as a group?

What behaviors do we accept that are harmful to the firm's success?

What behaviors do we exhibit that are important to the firm's success?


A culture of accountability just does not happen. You need to build it. There are seven building blocks that form the foundation for building this culture.

1. Strategic leadership. The foundation of any organization is its strategic vision, mission and core values. Firms will not embrace these concepts unless the strategic leadership comes from the top.

* Does the firm have a clear, compelling and realistic mission and vision?

* Are your decisions based on achieving your mission and vision?

2. Performance culture. This is all about getting things done - execution. Most firms don't have a performance culture. High-performance firms achieve what they say they are going to do.

* Do you regularly and rigorously evaluate the right measures?

* Do you take prompt and corrective action in response to the performance information?

* Do you reduce barriers to higher levels of performance?

* Do you generate new and better ways of doing things and approach challenges creatively?

3. Clearly defined authority and responsibility. Are the responsibilities and authority of each stakeholder clearly stated and understood throughout the organization?

* Are partner roles and responsibilities clearly defined?

* Are expectations clearly set with each partner?

* Are individual partner goals aligned with the firm's strategic vision?

* Does the firm tie partner performance to compensation?

4. Embedded core values. Many firms have values and most partners and team members can't remember them or what they stand for. An embedded core value is one that is an integral part of the firm's DNA. It's not just a word on a page.

* Are your core values defined?

* Do you have specific examples of how each one is lived?

* Do you evaluate each individual on how well they live the core values?

* Do you reward those who live the core values? If you don't evaluate and reward people for living the core values, then they are probably not embedded in your culture.

5. Transparency. An organization with transparency is free from pretense or deceit.

* Do the owners clearly have the best interests of others in mind?

* Is the information you provide clear, consistent, truthful, relevant and thorough?

* Do you disseminate the right information to the appropriate stakeholders?

* Do you do what you say you are going to do?

6. Shared ownership. This is closely tied to the first building block - strategic leadership.

It's almost impossible to have shared ownership if you have no clearly stated mission, vision and core values. Shared ownership implies that you have something in common with each other.

* Do you hold the same beliefs when it comes to client service, employee growth and learning, etc?

* Do the owners call out others when they are not living up to your common beliefs?

* Have each of your partners bought into what they have clearly and specifically promised to achieve?

7. Engaged owners. How passionate are your partners about the practice? Engaged owners are passionate owners. They have a certain fire in their bellies about the business.

* Does your engagement of critical stakeholders inspire passion and motivate commitment to the organization?

* What percent of your partners are truly passionate about the practice?

Building a culture of accountability will pay great dividends for clients, employees and owners. If you want to stand out from the crowd, commit today to laying your foundation.

August Aquila is chief executive of Aquila Global Advisors LLC. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or

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