Creating Cultural Accountability

In this week's episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior dive into what it means to create cultural accountability in an organization. Our definition of culture is the way we interact. At an individual level, cultural accountability is being accountable for the way you behave and interact with others. High performing organizations have high cultural accountability. As always, we move from theory into practice, and Tim and Junior share tons of practical and actionable examples to help increase cultural accountability in yourself and in your organization.

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Episode Show Notes

In this week's episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior dive into what it means to create cultural accountability in an organization. Our definition of culture is the way we interact. At an individual level, cultural accountability is being accountable for the way you behave and interact with others. High performing organizations have high cultural accountability. As always, we move from theory into practice, and Tim and Junior share tons of practical and actionable examples to help increase cultural accountability in yourself and in your organization.

Why cultural accountability? (01:38) Accountability is one of the most important concepts and components of an organization, and we often talk about accountability as it relates to performance accountability. But there's another side of the coin. Because there's a direct tie between culture and innovation, having cultural accountability will be a competitive advantage for your organization.

Running two organizations at the same time (10:21) In order to have a high performing organization with good longevity, we need to have high cultural accountability. Why? Because two contradicting things are happening at the same time in every organization: execution and innovation. In a way, we're leading two different organizations at the same time, the current organization and the organization of the future. Tim and Junior share how to navigate that dynamic.

Creativity and innovation (18:41) Creativity is an input for innovation. Our hosts pose the question: Does your environment nurture doing something differently than what we would expect? You don't press into creativity and force it through a strainer. It needs to breathe.

Create cultural accountability by establishing clarity (25:14) What are the expectations as it relates to your culture? If you have non-existent or very confusing expectations, you won't be able to hold people accountable.

Create cultural accountability by modeling and rewarding proper behavior (32:22) How are you supposed to hold someone accountable for something you don't do? If you don't see a behavior embodied, personified, modeled, it's an abstraction. Leaders need to be the example, own up to their mistakes, and encourage others to behave similarly.

Create cultural accountability through consistency (39:16) Establishing predictability is essential to creating cultural accountability. People who are only held accountable are not held accountable at all.

Important Links:
The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety Behavioral Guide

Episode Transcript


0:00:02.4 Freddy: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast. In today's episode, Tim and Junior are discussing cultural accountability. Our definition of culture is the way we interact. So at an individual level, cultural accountability is being accountable for the way you behave and interact with others. In order to have a high performing organization, we need to have high cultural accountability. As always in this episode, we move from theory into practice, and Tim and Junior will give you tons of practical and actionable examples to help increase cultural accountability in yourself and in your organization. As always, this episode's show notes can be found at that includes a link to our free Psychological Safety Behavioral Guide with over 100 practical behaviors to improve psychological safety and team performance. Thanks again for listening. Thank you for your reviews and enjoy today's episode on cultural accountability.


0:01:13.3 Junior: Welcome back everyone to Culture by Design. My name is Junior, I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be discussing cultural accountability. Tim, how you doing?

0:01:22.5 Tim: I'm doing great. You put together two words that don't normally go together, culture and accountability. So this is going to be a great conversation. I'm excited.

0:01:33.8 Junior: Yeah, we're going to talk about why we put them together, why they're so important.

0:01:36.5 Tim: That's right.

0:01:38.8 Junior: Accountability is one of the most important concepts and components of an organization, and we often talk about accountability as it relates to performance accountability. Right? But we neglect another type of accountability, which we call cultural accountability. And so accountability as a single term isn't good enough. That's part of what we're saying. We need to differentiate between these two types, performance and culture. There's a direct tie between cultural accountability and innovation. It's probably not something that you've thought a lot about. And today we're going to define cultural accountability, understand that relationship with innovation, and share some suggestions, some practical advice as to how we can create more cultural accountability in our teams. Tim, what do you hope to get out of today's episode? What's top of mind for you?

0:02:33.1 Tim: Well, I hope that listeners will come away with a very clear understanding of the differences between performance and cultural accountability. And that with that understanding, armed with that understanding, that they'll be able to reflect on their own teams, on their own performance, not only what they're achieving, but how they're achieving it. And that from a practical standpoint, this will be very valuable to listeners. They'll go back and see with new eyes and think about how well they're doing cultural accountability and to what extent they're focusing on it. Hopefully that will lead to some decisions and some commitments as they go forward.

0:03:21.9 Junior: Let's start with a definition of terms. What is cultural accountability? Let's split the words apart and start there. So what is culture? Culture we define as the way we interact. There are a lot of different ways that we could define culture, and we talked about this a couple of episodes back. But this is our operating definition, the way we interact. It's operational, it's practical, it's very useful, the way we interact. What is accountability? We're going to define accountability as being answerable or responsible for something. So when we put those two things together, what is cultural accountability? It's being answerable and responsible for the way we interact. I know for me just the definition alone is valuable. Leaving with the understanding that that's what we're talking about when we talk about cultural accountability I think is really important. And so at the individual level we're talking about being answerable for the way that we engage with others, our own behavior and then on the other hand, holding other people accountable for the way that they interact with each other.

0:04:30.3 Tim: That's right, Junior. Another way to perhaps clarify it is to call it behavioral accountability, at least at an individual level. So we may use those terms a little bit interchangeably, cultural accountability, behavioral accountability. So think about your definition of culture, at least the way that we define culture. We say that culture is the way we interact. So at an individual level, cultural accountability is being accountable for the way you behave and interact with others. When we differentiate between performance and then cultural/behavioral accountability, we're distinguishing between lead measures and lag measures. So now we're going to bring in the way we measure it, right? The lag measures for accountability are about results. Think about the way that you're held accountable for your results. What are the metrics, what are the KPIs, what are the results? In the past, far too often we said to leaders, "Deliver the results. I don't care how you get them, just deliver the results. See you later." There was this narrow and exclusive obsession with results, sometimes at all costs. This was the legacy of many people in many organizations.

0:05:58.9 Tim: But that focus on the what, right? What you deliver to the exclusion of the how has become more and more and more dangerous. And we're learning over and over that the how matters. It doesn't just matter a little bit, it matters in a profound way. How you lead, how you interact, how you motivate, how you coach, how you influence has a profound impact on results over time. So we have entered a new era, I think, Junior, in which we are now placing hopefully equal emphasis on results, the what, and then the behavior and the culture, the how. If results are the lag indicator, the how represents the lead indicator. So your behavior is the lead indicator. The culture that you create is the lead indicator. Ultimately, we've learned that how you interact with others, your culture is what enables high performance over time. So do you see the importance of the distinction between performance accountability, the what, and cultural accountability, the how? So I'm kind of riffing on that a little bit, Junior, but I think in far too many organizations, we don't even make the distinction.

0:07:31.6 Junior: Yeah, when we talk about accountability, we just assume that we're talking about performance, we're talking about...

0:07:40.5 Tim: Yeah.

0:07:41.7 Junior: Technicalities. We recently finished Q3.

0:07:42.2 Tim: Yes.

0:07:43.1 Junior: And I think about the accountability mechanisms inside most organizations and what happens at the end of the quarter as we look back on financial performance and other metrics that we're tracking. That's just it. Those are the metrics that we're tracking most all the time. It's going to be quantitative, and it's going to have to do with performance. So think about the things for which you've been held accountable in the last six weeks. How many of those were performance oriented, results oriented, lag indicator oriented, and how many of those interactions were culturally oriented or lead measure oriented? And for most people, most of us are going to say, well, it skewed really heavily toward performance accountability, and maybe there was no accountability on the other side. Now, I want to point out a danger, a threat, a risk that I've seen inside some organizations, inside some pockets, rather, is that we obsess over culture to the exclusion of results, and we start taking ourselves off the hook for performance. And instead of talking about what and how, we're just talking about how. That's not what we're talking about here.

0:09:03.8 Junior: We are still accountable for, it is, and we swing the pendulum too far the other way.

0:09:09.4 Tim: That's overcompensating.

0:09:11.4 Junior: Exactly, exactly. And that can be problematic. And so I think when we're talking about the what and the how, we're talking about lead measures and lag measures, both are important. And we need to find the right frequency for both, the right ratio, and we need to spend time thinking about both the accountability mechanisms on both sides to make sure that we're appropriately balanced, and that we're accountable for results, but we're also accountable for the how. So I want to mention that, that there's a little bit of danger there, and we're not saying that you're no longer accountable for what happens in the performance realm.

0:09:49.2 Tim: And we also need to acknowledge that measuring the how, measuring culture, measuring behavior is difficult.

0:09:58.3 Junior: Yeah, it's difficult.

0:10:01.3 Tim: Capturing those lead indicators is difficult. And that's part of the problem that explains why we often don't have a balanced approach with both lead and lag indicators when it comes to accountability. So we acknowledge that, we understand that, but hopefully through today's episode we'll be able to figure out how we can do that better.

0:10:21.7 Junior: Yeah. Here's a big assumption going into the conversation. In order to have a high performing organization with good longevity, we need to have high cultural accountability. Now, we have to test this assumption. Do we think it's true? Do we think it's not true? So I've got two pieces here. A high performing organization then with good longevity. So you have to be able to do it for a long time. You can squeeze high performance out of an organization in the short term by doing things that are not advisable. But if you want to do it consistently for a long time, you need to have good cultural accountability. Why? Let's dive into this and test our assumption. Why? There are two things that happen inside organizations, and we've talked about this before, execution and innovation. Those are the two things going on, constantly. How do we create value for today to stay alive and deliver value to our customers? How do we create value tomorrow? How do we stick around? How do we do things differently? How do we adapt to a changing environment? How do we improve our product? How do we improve our process so that we can stay here and continue to do this not just today, but tomorrow? Because we have to worry about future us, too. And future us, we care about what happens in the future. We want the organization to be around.

0:11:44.8 Junior: So those are the two things we're doing and we're switching between those all the time. I think about yesterday for me and how many times I switched back and forth between execution and innovation just in a given day. And some days are more execution oriented and weeks and months, and some days and weeks and months are more innovation oriented. But we're going back and forth. So those are the two things that we're doing. Is that fair?

0:12:11.7 Tim: It is fair but, and let me add to it, we could say that in a way we're leading two different organizations at the same time, the current organization and the organization of the future.

0:12:22.7 Junior: Yeah, I like that.

0:12:23.9 Tim: You're running two different organizations. Not only that, the applied disciplines of execution and innovation, there's a natural tension state between those two. They militate against each other and you're trying to run these two organizations at the same time. And there's this contradiction in what each needs and doing execution, as we often like to say, Junior, the whole entire emphasis and thrust is to reduce variance. And then with innovation, you've got to figure out how we're going to create value tomorrow. So you're deliberately introducing variance and so you've got this contradiction, you've got this tension and you're running these two different organizations. Wow.

0:13:11.2 Junior: I really like that you put it that way, running two organizations. So why? Why is this important? Why are we talking about execution and innovation? I want to assert a hypothesis that execution is about skills and innovation is about culture. Now, not one to the exclusion of the other, these things co-exist. But speaking in generalities, I think it's an interesting thought experiment. Is it true that execution is more about skills and innovation is more about culture? Let's dive into it. Innovation is about deviation from the status quo. Like Tim said, we're introducing variance. And is that something that is skill enabled or culturally enabled? Sure, it's both. But what's the ratio and what's the lead measure? What's upstream? What's the antecedent? It's culture, it's culturally enabled. It's not a skill that you develop. Innovation is not a skill by itself. You don't just do innovation. You have to have an environment that's conducive to innovation, especially when two things, you want it to be consistent and predictable, and two, when it requires other people. Unless you are alone by yourself and only need to do it once, then you're going to need culture as an enabler. There are tools for innovation, there are frameworks. But those tools, those frameworks, the skills we bring to the table are only as effective as the culture is healthy.

0:14:46.5 Junior: If a culture does not support the introduction of variance, if it doesn't support deviation from the status quo, then by definition we will get no innovation. Or if we get a 1% innovation here, it'll be snuffed out, it'll be smothered, it will be stopped because the environment says that's different than what we saw yesterday. We're not sure we like it. Better not do that anymore. Execution, on the other hand, skill-based. What do you think?

0:15:13.7 Tim: Let's try to falsify your hypothesis, Junior, by making an assertion. [chuckle] This is interesting. So can we say that if we put a team together of experts, even geniuses, domain experts, and they're the best there is in the world, and we put them together, then it naturally follows that they will create an incubator of innovation and they will be able to innovate very productively. Does that naturally follow? The answer is no, it doesn't. You cannot assemble a team of experts and assume that they will innovate, because often, they don't. So this is upholding your hypothesis. So I want to weigh in on this a little bit. Yes, we need skills and tools for innovation. We do. But why does innovation rely so heavily on culture? And this is not to say that execution is exclusively about skills and doesn't rely on culture as well. Of course it does. But your hypothesis, Junior, is that innovation relies even perhaps more, has a heavier reliance on culture. Why might this be the case? Because we are venturing into the unknown. Now, let's think about what that means. When we innovate, we're venturing into the unknown. The culture has to be able to not only accommodate, but actually nurture and protect a different set of behaviors.

0:16:51.6 Tim: What we're saying is that when we innovate, we're going to activate, we're going to make use of a different set of behaviors. What are they? Well, we are exploring and experimenting. No individual knows the answer. It's a team sport. So we need people to do what? We need them to observe, gather and synthesize information. We need them brainstorming, asking questions, making connections, combining and recombining things, crossing boundaries. We don't stay in your swim-lane when you're innovating. It's absurd, right? You're challenging assumptions, putting forward hypotheses, building prototypes, testing prototypes, iterating, refining, failing and trying again. Does that sound messy?

0:17:47.8 Junior: It sounds messy.

0:17:48.9 Tim: Because it is. It's messy. So when it comes to innovation, can you imagine focusing exclusively on performance accountability? So it's like going to the organization or going to a team and saying, go out there and create an incubator for innovation and "drive innovation." How many times have I heard "drive innovation"? What a poor word choice. How about nurture or foster innovation? The point is that innovation forces us back upstream to focus on the how, to focus on behavior, to focus on creating the right culture. So, Junior, I'm arguing in behalf of your hypothesis that there is a greater reliance on culture when we go to the innovation side of the ledger.

0:18:41.0 Junior: Well, I appreciate you arguing on my behalf because it is really convincing. You mentioned a few things that innovation requires, and a couple of those stood out to me. Creativity stands out to me as an input for innovation. There are a lot of words that we could use, you used several, but creativity's interesting because what is it? It's doing something differently than what we would expect. Think about what you think about when something's creative. Like, oh, I never thought about it that way. I have never seen it done that way before. Okay? So creativity, is that something that the environment nurtures or not? Does the environment nurture doing something differently than what we would expect? You don't drive doing things differently than what you'd expect. Right? Again, to word choice. You nurture that. And when has creativity been forced and been good? Creativity to me, I like the word because it implies space. You think of a creative, what do you think about? Space.

0:19:52.9 Junior: They have space. They have some autonomy. They have some independence to do their thing. That's where creativity lives. You don't press into creativity and force it through a strainer. It needs to breathe. So the next one is risk taking. Risk taking doesn't pay off every time. That's why it's risk taking. You could look stupid at the individual level, at the team level. You put something on the table and someone might say, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever seen." It might not work. Collaboration. How often is innovation a solo effort, like you said. And so I love that you mentioned some of those ingredients because it helps us understand what must be true in order to have consistent innovation. So speaking about drive, drive says something about motivation and someone's motivational profile. If someone requires to be driven, what does that mean? Tim Do you think creative people need to be driven to do things? What's their motivational profile like?

0:21:00.6 Tim: Creative people don't need motivation.

0:21:00.7 Junior: They don't need your motivation or they don't need it from you, right?

0:21:04.1 Tim: Yeah. To clarify, they don't need your motivation. They need autonomy with guidance. Right, that's what they need. I want to bring in, Junior, at this point, Ed Catmull. I took off my bookshelf the other day. This was published in 2014, "Creativity Inc." This is an all time classic.

0:21:25.6 Junior: So good.

0:21:25.7 Tim: So good. Ed Catmull was the President of Pixar Animation and then also Disney Animation when they came together. And he started as a technical expert in animation. But he shifted gradually as he took the managerial, he took the leadership role, he realized, hey, do you know what my job is? I'm the chief architect and curator of culture. It's my job to create the environment, the conditions, the atmosphere, the climate where these people can flourish. I looked at my highlights from this book that I read, I devoured years ago, because it's a classic.

0:22:09.6 Tim: And this is what Ed said. He said, "I've spent nearly 40 years thinking about how to help smart, ambitious people work effectively with one another. The way I see it, my job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for things that undermine it." That's what this entire book is about. How do you create that fertile environment? And so Junior, this all upholds your hypothesis that when we go to innovation, wow, it's about the environment. It's about creating that fertile environment to unleash the creativity of the people. I couldn't help but think of that case study of Pixar Animation.

0:23:02.3 Junior: Think about that quote and the 40 years experience that are informing that perspective. Who is better positioned to comment on getting smart, creative people to work together? Arguably no one. And so I think when we listen to that comment, we need to pay attention. And we need to give it appropriate weight. I really like that. What we've done so far is try to make the case that innovation has to do with culture. That it has more to do with culture than skill. We don't develop culture to the exclusion of skill. These things have to work symbiotically. We need competent people, but we need a fertile environment, like Catmull said, in order for them to do their best work. So culture is what allows us to get better, to compete longer, to do things differently, that will enable the future organization that we're managing in tandem with the one that exists today to live and thrive.

0:24:06.2 Junior: So here's the complication. If we understand that this is so important, then why do we have so little of it in most organizations? Based on our earlier definition of cultural accountability, people are not sufficiently answerable for the way that they interact with others. That's the fundamental complication to this whole idea. There's interaction that's happening that's unhealthy for which people are not held accountable or responsible. So what's going on? Why? Either we don't know what the cultural standards are, so there's nothing to which we're held accountable. Or two, we do have cultural standards, but they're not enforced.

0:24:46.5 Tim: It's gonna be one of the two, right?

0:24:48.4 Junior: One of those two things is happening. So what do we do? Do you think that the complication is about that, Tim?

0:24:55.7 Tim: Yeah, it is.

0:24:57.6 Junior: What do you see inside organizations?

0:25:00.6 Tim: No, I think that's true. Either they lack definition and clarity at the front end, or they're not holding people accountable at the back end. It's gotta be one of those two things. It has to be. Those are the failure patterns.

0:25:14.7 Junior: Yeah. So what do we do? That's what we wanna spend time on for the remainder of today's conversation is the what do we do? And there are three overarching suggestions that we would make to help each of us get better at becoming culturally accountable for ourselves individually and for our teams and our organizations. And the first one, Tim mentioned in passing, establish clarity. If we don't have clarity, we can't even start. What are the expectations as it relates to your culture? If you have non-existent or very confusing expectations, you won't be able to hold people accountable. People want to know, what am I responsible for and what is expected of me? Now, they might ask that question from a technical perspective, and you might give them an answer from a technical perspective, "Here's your role, here's your job description. This is what you're responsible for." And we've become really good at that, right? You come into an organization, most of the time we're good at this, and sometimes we struggle even here. But this is what you're here for. This is what you're responsible for creating or maintaining or whatever the case may be. But do we answer that question culturally? Do people know culturally, what are you responsible for and what's expected of you?

0:26:35.2 Tim: That's right, Junior. Without the clarity, without the definition, there's confusion and you don't have credibility right from the beginning. So it's a false start. If you try to go down the road without clear expectations upfront, where are you going? It's going to be a false start and it's going to end in failure.

0:27:00.8 Junior: Yeah. There's a book that I really like by Ben Horowitz. It's called "What You Do is Who You Are," and it's about culture. One of the things that he lays out that I really like is he gives practical one-liners as to the expectations culturally that people need to abide by. And that's something that's made public. It's something that people understand. And I was reminded of this yesterday as I was going through an offer letter that was going out the door. We're expanding a few pieces of our organization. We're in the process of building out teams with some additional people. And so I got this offer letter, and in there there's a section that's all about culture. And I thought that this would be interesting to share for our listeners just as a point of reference, as a data point as to how we approach this even in the offer letter. So the first thing on there as it relates to culture is model and reinforce LeaderFactor's values, integrity, competence, mutual respect, communication, initiative and service. Okay, that's great. A lot of organizations will have that. They'll have mission, vision, values as part of that, and they'll just list them out. Okay, but what does that actually mean? So underneath we have a whole bunch of bullets, and I want to go through at least a few of those. Demonstrate the...

0:28:25.7 Tim: Well, Junior...

0:28:26.7 Junior: Go ahead.

0:28:27.1 Tim: The bullets translate the values into behavior, right? Aren't we going down to the behavioral level? I think that's what we're doing.

0:28:38.7 Junior: Exactly. Well, I appreciate you calling that out, and that's what we're doing. We're further differentiating those values and moving them to the behavioral realm because okay, you have competence as a value, but what does that mean behaviorally? If you don't go down to the behavioral level, it lives up there and you have to go to people and say, be competent, right? Have initiative. That's not good enough. So here are some of those bullets. Demonstrate the patterns of an agile self-directed learner. Get a little better each day. This is the key to accelerating to competency and beyond. Act inside your role, think outside your role. Participate in the strategy formulation process. Innovate through creative abrasion and high tolerance for candor. Challenge the status quo. Offering constructive dissent is a professional responsibility. If you have a contrary opinion from the organization's intended course of action, you are obligated to register that point of view. The homogenization of thought is the enemy. How about that for clear? I love that.

0:29:49.1 Tim: Yeah. It's starting to get clear.

0:29:49.2 Junior: It's starting to get clear. Offering constructive dissent is a professional responsibility. So we're telling you as you join our organization, this is a duty that you have here. If you have a contrary opinion, you gotta share. Why? Because we're trying to fight institutionally against this homogenization of thought. Okay. Moving on. Lift, encourage, acknowledge and support your teammates. Help them get and be better. Collaborate with humility. Surrendering your ego, defense mechanisms and pride of authorship. Over-communicate and never assume. Ambiguity and assumptions destroy value. Continually improve the customer experience. Pay attention to patterns and outliers. Protect the brand with impeccable integrity. Never take a shortcut. You will eventually get stung. Make a commitment, keep a commitment. Find the price, pay the price. Be willing to leave your comfort zone. Travel to your outer limits and build new capacity. Engage in vulnerable acts. Reward others' vulnerable acts.

0:30:48.6 Junior: Demonstrate coachability, a combination of high self-awareness and high willingness. Help LeaderFactor create a deeply inclusive culture by sustaining psychological safety and removing both conscious and unconscious bias from our interactions. When you work, work hard, then lay it down and focus on more important things. So there are some bullets for you from an offer letter that went out just yesterday, and I'm so appreciative of the fact that I believe this was you originally, started to include this as part of the hiring process and making it more clear about what is expected of you from a cultural standpoint. Not just, okay, here are some bullets about what you're gonna do, who you report to, and here's how your comp works. But hey, there's more culturally in that offer letter than there is performance. If you look just at the pages of the offer, this takes up way more space and you can see very clearly what's important to us and what we care about. Is it perfect? No. Is it perfectly applicable to your organization? No. But it's something that shows where our heads are at and what's important to us as you begin and start working.

0:32:03.8 Tim: Yeah, And are we perfect?

0:32:05.0 Junior: No.

0:32:07.0 Tim: Heavens no. And are we on a journey? Yes, we are. Are we trying to figure this out? Yes, we are. But it's the principle that you need clarity upfront and the clarity increases as you move to behavior.

0:32:22.6 Junior: So that's point one, establish clarity. Number two, model and reward proper behavior. You added model. Tell me why.

0:32:34.8 Tim: Because you always remind me, Junior, that as humans, we need to be able to see someone do whatever it is that we're expecting them to do. They need to see whether it's a skill or a concept or a behavior, they need to see it embodied in a person. And if it's not, it's not real. I'm emphasizing this because you always emphasize this.

0:33:00.3 Junior: I do. Because how are you supposed to hold someone accountable for something you don't do? How do you do that from a place of credibility? You don't, unless you're modeling that proper behavior. Or you can try, but no one's gonna take you seriously. Everyone's gonna say, "Well, this person's a total joke. They're trying to hold people accountable for this thing that I haven't ever seen them do." You lose all credibility as a leader, but if you are seen as the person who will go out there and do that thing, and in this case modeling proper behavior the way that you interact, okay, now you can expect that from others with some real credibility and they'll take you seriously. So, I appreciate you putting that on there.

0:33:43.2 Tim: Junior, If you don't see a behavior embodied, personified, modeled, it's an abstraction. Right? It's still in the conceptual realm. So you can't really expect people to follow what they don't have a model for. That's not gonna happen.

0:34:00.6 Junior: I would also say on this front, you gotta own your mistakes. So you're trying to model proper behavior, but you're gonna misstep, you're not gonna bat a thousand. So when you swing and miss, own it. And help people understand that you're aware of that. Hey, I did this thing, it wasn't okay, I apologize. I'm gonna do it differently next time. Let's talk about the reward side of this equation for a second, because I think this one's really important. Reward proper behavior. Why are we putting that inside cultural accountability? Often when we talk about holding people accountable, people see or frame it negatively. It may have a negative connotation holding people accountable, but do you hold people accountable for the positive things that they do? Do you reward those that are the highest quality cultural architects on your team and in your organization? You need consequences, the sticks as far as motivation is concerned, and you need carrots as well, both. But if you only have sticks in your toolbox, you will not be as effective a leader. You need to understand how to use both sides of the spectrum. And it may seem blunt and crass, carrots and sticks, but it's something that we have to come to terms with and talk through.

0:35:19.3 Tim: Yeah. I like the language of consequences, Junior. When we talk about carrots and sticks, we can confuse that and think that we're talking about using fear and punishment as motivators. And that's not what I think we're saying. We're talking about natural consequences. So take coercion and manipulation out of the picture. Let's deal with people transparently and justly. No head games, no hide the ball. We're talking about consequences and we're being transparent about what leads to what. And we're trying to set people up for success in everything that we do. We're trying to support them, help them, coach them. We want them to be successful. That's what we want. That's all that we want.

0:36:08.3 Junior: Now, I think that's an appropriate qualification. I appreciate you calling that out. So we gotta reward the things that we want to happen more often. That's what I'm trying to say. If you see someone do something honest, what do you do? You see someone go the extra mile, what do you do? Now, this is something that I've had to really learn and try to improve because some of these things for me, let's take honesty as an example, it's just table stakes. For me, I approached this as like, well, yeah, of course you gotta be honest and when you are, we're back to neutral. But it's a lost opportunity. So you might think, well, you know, this person works hard and good for them. You're supposed to, you're honest, so of course you should be. Instead, think about this as an opportunity. Hey, so and so, I noticed this. Well done. Keep it up. And this occurred to me. We had a team of SDRs. At some point, this team had like 12 SDRs on it, and there were one or two that had a really hard time showing up on time. In the first like week, I started to see like, oh, this could be a pattern.

0:37:23.0 Junior: I could have used the negative reinforcement, the consequences side of the ledger.

0:37:29.5 Tim: Yeah.

0:37:29.6 Junior: But I saw one of them come in on time. It was on time once that week, and I shot 'em a DM and just said, "Hey, really appreciate that you're here on time. I think that that really helps set the tone for the team." And guess how many times they showed up late after that? Like zero. And there was so much conversation in that acknowledgement of what they had done right, that I didn't have to go to the other side of the spectrum and use negative consequences. And so I would say in short, reinforce the positive things that are happening culturally even if you think that they are table stakes or just rite of passage.

0:38:10.2 Tim: It's a good point, Junior. I think back on the SDR team and some of these folks were very young, some working part-time, still in college, trying to consolidate their own habits and norms. [laughter] Right?

0:38:26.2 Junior: Yeah, yeah.

0:38:27.1 Tim: And you're trying to help them with that process and you're trying to help them be successful. I really like the fact that you focus on that. It may be table stakes, but it's an opportunity.

0:38:36.4 Junior: To your point, you don't know where they've come from.

0:38:39.9 Tim: No.

0:38:43.4 Junior: And you don't know what the norms were previously. And maybe to you something is normal, attentiveness or punctuality or whatever it might be. But what if that was out of the ordinary where they came from? It's something that you have to acknowledge. And if they're coming out of a really toxic environment, that bar's gonna be a little bit lower for what high performance looks like. And so we need to take people where they are and help them. So number two is model and reward proper behavior.

0:39:16.1 Junior: The third one is be consistent. We got an opportunity to say just a few things about cultural accountability and this made the list. Why did it make the list? Because establishing predictability is essential. If you think about you as a human, what are you constantly doing? You're trying to project into the future an outcome. For any given scenario, you wanna know how it's gonna go. You go through the drive-through, you have expectations about how it's gonna happen. You go to work, you have expectations about how you're going to be treated. If you go through the drive-through and it's right one time, wrong the next time, slow the next time, excellent the next time, you have no idea what you're gonna get the next time you go through.

0:40:08.5 Junior: And that discourages you from engaging. And the same is true in any environment. And so if someone comes in and they can't establish predictability on your team as it relates to culture, what's their default position? Their default position will be to act in defense because they're not quite sure. It could be risky. Maybe it's not. I'm not quite sure how this person's gonna respond today. Am I gonna be held accountable the same way this other person was, or did they get a pass because they're friends? So we're looking for action result, action result, action result, so that we can project in the future with a higher degree of confidence. So if we are not consistent and predictable in the way that we handle cultural issues, people will have a hard time learning what to expect and what to do. If name calling as an example is sometimes okay, you'll have a much harder time than if it's never okay. So consistency I think is incredibly important as it relates to culture. Tim, what do you think.

0:41:11.6 Tim: Junior, I wanna bring up a case study. It's kind of an anecdote. I was speaking with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and this is a true story. And he had a very senior leader that retired after many years. And in a very heartfelt personal conversation that I had with him, he said, "I have a regret. And my regret is that I did not hold this gentleman accountable for the profanity that he would use routinely. And this is why I feel this way, because after he retired, I've had the opportunity to speak with several of his direct reports. And I've come to realize that it was so bad that it was creating not only discomfort, but really what you could argue would be a hostile work environment. And there were many, several of his direct reports that have come to me to help me understand the conditions that prevailed on his team and in his organization. Because he normalized that behavior and I let it go. I did not hold him culturally accountable for that behavior, and I regret that. I really truly regret that. And I look at that behavior as it's not okay. I had to learn through the process." Isn't that interesting?

0:42:44.9 Junior: That's fascinating.

0:42:45.0 Tim: This is a very heartfelt conversation that he had with me. Very honest conversation. That's just an example.

0:42:55.4 Junior: Well, and like the Catmull quote from earlier, I said, well, that's a weighty perspective. It's informed by 40 years. This one is too, you're a Fortune 500 CEO, and you're sharing a personal regret. Hey everyone, you, me, everyone listening, we should pay attention to that.

0:43:10.5 Tim: This was not benign behavior, but he thought it was.

0:43:16.7 Junior: Yeah.

0:43:19.8 Tim: For years he thought it was benign behavior, it didn't really matter. Again, Junior, as we like to say, what we tolerate, we normalize. It's also true that what we model, we normalize. So these are things that we need to reflect on deeply.

0:43:35.5 Junior: If you go back to our definition of being held answerable or responsible for the way that you interact, this person was not held accountable for the way they were interacting. And that's where we started to get some of the toxicity, some of the hostility.

0:43:54.9 Tim: Yes.

0:43:55.7 Junior: And some of those consequences that really hurt people. If you drill down, do you think that that affected that team's performance? Do you think that it affected that team's innovation? Yeah.

0:44:07.7 Tim: Yeah, no question.

0:44:07.6 Junior: It's not benign.

0:44:07.7 Tim: No, it's not.

0:44:07.8 Junior: As you said, it's not neutral.

0:44:09.9 Tim: No, it's not.

0:44:12.4 Junior: It's damaging something. There's a negative consequence lurking somewhere. And it's difficult to look at that team and say, well, this is exactly what happened, because he was that way. It's hard to do.

0:44:23.3 Tim: Well, I'll just give you an example. So let's just think about this as it relates to innovation, right, Junior? Because we're focusing on innovation. What we find is that discourse, it's through the process of discourse that we refine our ideas. It's through discourse that we refine our ideas. Well, because of the language that this gentleman was using day in and day out, guess what he was doing? Muting the discourse. So if the result of your behavior is to mute the discourse of your team, what are you losing? You're losing the refinement of the ideas that comes through the discourse. Is that not real? Sure it is.

0:45:05.2 Junior: Yeah.

0:45:06.6 Tim: That's what happened.

0:45:09.1 Junior: It's absolutely real. There are two more points inside be consistent that I wanna point out. The next is be impartial. Title and position do not matter when there's a cultural infraction. So if I in an organization, if I see, oh look, the VPs are held accountable by the CEO, what does that mean for the rest of the organization? If at the highest level of the institution we're seeing that people are answerable for the way that they interact, we're gonna get a clue. And we're gonna say, "Oh, okay. I see how things go around here. We are all accountable." If you see the opposite and you see that, well, because of title, because of position, because of history, this person is not held accountable, now we've lost predictability, we've lost consistency, and we know that there are exceptions to the rule. And so what do you often do in an organization?

0:46:02.9 Junior: There's an incentive to become an exception to the rule so that you don't have to deal with the accountability. That can become really perverse inside an organization. And the second is reduce tolerance. So the last point I wanna make here is that there is no amount of technical competence that can make up for a deficiency in cultural competence. You could be a technical expert, you could be a genius, you could be the best that we have ever seen. But if you are not behaviorally accountable for the way that you engage with other people, it doesn't matter. You don't get a pass. It's not something that we sweep under the rug or just buffer forever. You have to be held accountable. And we as organizations need to reduce our tolerance when it comes to those types of high performing, technically high performing people, but low culturally performing.

0:46:53.2 Tim: That's, Junior. Because the brilliant value creation comes out of the interdependence. And that goes back to the way we are interacting.

0:47:02.8 Junior: I've got quite a few takeaways from today. We've had this conversation all about cultural accountability and being answerable, responsible for the way that we interact. At the individual level, we need to model the right behavior, and at the team level, the organizational, we need to hold people accountable for the way that they interact. There are three main things that we talked through that we need to do better. The first is establish clarity. We need crystal clear expectations as it relates to culture. Two is model and reward the proper behavior. And three, be consistent. I'm very confident if we do those three things better, we'll be better equipped to hold people culturally accountable. We'll create the environment, the fertile soil that's necessary to have innovation and to have that consistently, to have that long term. Now, at least people are gonna love being there, and you are going to have a better time. People will engage with each other. They will collaborate. It will be a healthy and a vibrant place to be. You'll be able to attract talent, retain talent. You look at the ripple effects of culture and they're very far reaching. And so hopefully this has proved to be some motivation for each of us to be introspective and think about the things that we can do better culturally to create that type of environment. Tim, final thoughts from you?

0:48:26.6 Tim: If you're in any kind of a leadership role, then by definition, you're responsible to create that fertile environment. And so that goes back to cultural accountability. Performance accountability alone is not going to be enough.

0:48:39.4 Junior: Excellent conversation today, Tim. I really appreciate your time. And to everyone listening, thank you. Thanks for your time. Thanks for your attention. We appreciate your listenership very much. Thank you for what you do in your organizations and outside your organizations. We are here to support you. If you liked today's episode, please share it with someone who you think might find it valuable. You can find out more at Please leave us a like, a review and a share. Take care, everyone. We will see you next episode. Bye-bye.


0:49:18.4 Freddy: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, this is the end of today's episode. You can find all the important links from today's episode at And if you've found today's episode helpful and useful in any way, please share with a friend and leave a review. If you'd like to learn more about LeaderFactor and what we do, then please visit us at Lastly, if you'd like to give any feedback to the Culture by Design Podcast or even request a topic from Tim and Junior, then reach out to us at or find and tag us on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening and making culture something you do by design, not by default.

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Episode Transcript

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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