Why building an accountability culture is critical to start-up success

When we first start building a company, we have an almost untold number of potential strategies that we can take; which markets to target, how to develop our product, what the value proposition is. And all this optionality means that sometimes as leaders, we chase the shiniest objects that are going to validate our strategy, our leadership…or worst of all our ego. Having a clearly defined strategy is a sure-fire way to guard against this, but equally important is the disciplined execution of tasks that deliver on that strategy.

And for that, we need to make sure we have the right accountability structures in place.

We might think this sort of culture and discipline can wait until after we have delivered critical milestones — but the reality is that it is in these formative times that the foundations for your culture are set. As a leader you are ultimately accountable; accountable for any failures, as well as any successes your organization may have. Accountability comes as part of the job description, which is why, if you try to duck it, it will have a negative impact on the culture of accountability throughout the organisations.

What are some of the benefits of accountability?

1. Makes you responsible

Accountability makes you reliable by highlighting your goals and effectively enforcing you to best your past self. It teaches you to assume responsibility for your actions by putting you through personal challenges.

2. Promotes Ownership

When you hold yourself accountable for your decisions, you effectively teach yourself the value of hard work. Taking ownership of your actions is the basic building block of a responsible personality. It makes you headstrong, and you no longer feel the need to play the blame game. Recruiters look for this ability when looking for new people to lead projects.

3. Promotes alignment and avoids conflict

It’s a well-known and tested fact that conflicts arise when people blame each other for errors that occur in a project. When a person is accountable, they don’t feel bad assuming responsibility for their fault. They take criticism positively, accept their mistake and deliver excellence in the future.

4. Improves Performance

Every advantage of accountability links to each other. When a person holds himself accountable and uses criticism positively, their performance sees a clear incline. This is beneficial for all the stakeholders and is yet another reason why recruiters prefer people who demonstrate a developed sense of accountability.

Accountability is an ability through which a person measures their individual capabilities. It’s like scrutinising yourself. When you hold yourself accountable in every aspect of life, measuring your success and progress is extremely easy. It shows you how far you have come since starting out.

5. Builds Trust — within your team and within yourself

People trust confidence. When you are confident at your game, no power on earth can stop you from proving your point. Believe me, people dig confident folks who show a sense of belief in their abilities. How can you be confident? By being accountable, of course. As I said before, it all connects.

As a leader in a high ambition start-up the single most important message, in my opinion though, is that accountability, and culture, in general, starts with the tone at the top. Your leadership defines your culture. You need to be the role model that demonstrates and embodies the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. If you want people to take ownership, then you have to take it first, when you make commitments you have to be seen to meet those commitments. If you don’t, then why should anyone else be interested in doing so.

It is for this reason that, in my experience, accountability is the single biggest differentiator between successful and unsuccessful teams.

To help Start-Up Founders and Leaders to become more successful and to create a culture of accountability, we’ve created the Accountability Dojo. The Dojo is a high-performance program in which members get clarity on their long-term goals and take consistent and aligned action to achieve them. We’ve helped dozens of start-up leaders to achieve incredible things and you can find out more here.

About the AuthorJake Wombwell-Povey is a prolific and impact-focused, venture capital investor, leadership coach, sustainability consultant, as well as ex-founder who works with dozens of sustainability and cleantech founders.

Jake is a professional impact investor at Vala Capital, where he leads their UK-orientated sustainability fund. Through the investments, Jake has made he sits on the boards of a number of sustainability companies and advises countless more.

Jake is also a leadership coach to sustainability around the world and coaches clients from the Far East, Europe and North America in sectors as diverse as Hydrogen, Circularity, BatteryTech, Retail, Energy Storage, WaterTech and Media. Jake is also an adviser and mentor to Third Derivative in the US, and Bethnal Green Ventures in the UK, as well as being on the steering committee at VentureESG.

Jake is a serial founder and has raised multiple investment rounds for his first start-up, Goji Investments, from notable investors including Anthemis and Axa Venture Partners. Prior to founding Goji, Jake worked in corporate finance for one of the UK’s largest corporate finance firms, where we advised on several $bn of transactions across public and private markets for some of the world’s leading investment groups.

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Publications for CEOs, Founders & Leaders in the Sustainability + Cleantech space

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Jake Wombwell-Povey

Jake Wombwell-Povey

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