When Joel Patterson asked me to create a culture with fewer people problems at his company The Vested Group, I knew the ultimate goal was to instill accountability into his top leaders.

In a retreat last spring, we set up a 4-stage process to achieve Patterson’s goal of being able to walk away from his company without worrying about its future when he’s gone.

The 4 stage Process:

Stage One: First, we defined how to assess opinions in the group in a quick no-nonsense way: thumbs up for agreement, thumbs down for disagreement and thumbs sideways for ‘don’t like it but will live with it.’ Thus, we now had a voting system in which everyone would be heard.

Stage Two: The next step was to ask his leadership team: “What are the rules here at The Vested Group?” They looked a little confused at first, but then I explained that a culture is made up of two things: What are the rules within a company? And what happens when people break those rules? After the team spent a retreat day defining what they believed were the essence of norms, rules or standards that represent the company, they had the tougher job of defining what happens when the rules are broken.

Stage three: What happens when someone breaks the rules? After long discussions, longer debates and the longest time defining how to handle conflict, the team moved into the third stage of building a successful leadership team: Keeping the norms and holding everyone accountable to the norms established. This demanded calling out their best buddies rather than holding back criticism. They decided it was important to talk to team members, not about them, so they had to confront each other more than usual and follow the guidelines established in stage two.

This was the most challenging time for the leadership team. We left the off-site to return to everyday work life and spent several months testing out our new system. It demanded using the set of rules they decided upon in every weekly leadership meeting. Someone from the group read through the rules before each meeting to remind each other of what was important.

Stage Four: Carry these rules out to the other employees. We had a ‘lunch and learn’ with members of the leadership team taking turns explaining the norms and what would happen if they were broken.