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Home > Topics > Communication
January 07, 2014
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Elements of Leadership
by Chris Cebollero

How to develop an accountable organization

Trusting your staff is a big component of building productive teams

By Chris Cebollero

As EMS professionals, we perform the majority of our work independently, with minimal supervisor oversight. We use countless skills to ensure that we deliver the best care possible. These skills do not just include how to use equipment or conduct a great patient assessment, but also critical thinking, decision-making and communication.

Trusting your staff is a big component of building productive teams. One of the most important ways of building trust is to develop a culture of accountability within the organization. Accountability helps all employees deliver quality services consistently, without having to provide moment-to-moment oversight.

Accountability defined

Accountability is an obligation, a willingness to accept responsibility or account for one's actions. Simply, when you decide to take personal accountability, you own it. You tell yourself, This is mine, and I’ve got the ball. You ask yourself, What else has to be done to make progress, to overcome obstacles and achieve the maximum result?

In any organization, it seems that finger-pointing is always the standard when something goes wrong. When there is accountability within the organization, you can get past the blame game and address the challenges.

Setting accountability standards

Developing a culture of accountability will not happen overnight. It is vital the right elements are put into place and there is appropriate buy-in. Here are a few ways to begin that process.

Develop clear roles and individual ownership. Accountability can be hard to achieve when roles and processes are unclear. Remove as much confusion as possible. Outline who is in charge of which duties and how they will proceed in reaching their responsibilities. Team members who are accountable to each other will identify gaps, learn new roles and processes, and ultimately build a more skilled team.

Create a sense of ownership.The entire staff has to feel that they are part of a team effort to accomplish the organization's mission. Each member is empowered to gain information, give or receive feedback, and point out the need for making processes or procedures better at any time.

Avoid punitive behavior. Remove the barriers and fears that “punishment” will result with every mistake. Such an environment suppresses creativity, which makes no one be willing to step up, speak out or try something new. We have all made mistakes, that’s where our experience grows from. Allow your folks to make mistakes and let them know it's OK.

Reward personal integrity. Each member of the workforce should have a high level of personal integrity. You depend upon staff being able to self-report a medication error or mapping mistake. Yet a poorly run organization can create an environment where the strength needed for personal integrity is exchanged for fear.  We cannot meet the responsibilities of being an EMS organization without a workforce that we can trust and support as they strive towards organizational excellence.

With all the great changes in EMS and especially in the area of mobile integrated health care, it is vital individuals shift their focus to a higher level of organizational accountability. The level of accountability within your organization is absolutely linked to the level of trust, engagement and ownership that exists within your workforce. Once obtained, organizational accountability removes the tendency to make excuses, point fingers and shift blame.

One of the best ways to begin building this culture of accountability is to find ways to lead people without the feeling of “ruling” them, but rather empowering them to achieve maximum results. Successful leaders learn ways to motivate and inspire people beyond their personal limits as well as the limitations of their positions.

In the process of motivating and inspiring, leaders are now building an environment that encourages employees to ask, "What else can I do to help the organization be successful?" repeatedly until those results are achieved. When a culture of accountability exists, and employees make clear and specific commitments for their own work, entire organizations will align and unbeatable results will be achieved.

About the author

Chris Cebollero is a nationally recognized Emergency Medical Services leader, author, and advocate. With close to 30 years experience directing and coordinating hundreds of Emergency Medical Technicians, paramedics, dispatchers, and support staff. Currently Chris is the Chief of Christian Hospital EMS in North St Louis County.
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