Why is accountability so important in the workplace?
A workplace in which employees are engaged without being accountable is unsustainable. Accountability is critical to any human operation in which work must get done efficiently, effectively, and within budget. More importantly, it also has a major impact on top performers and overall employee engagement.
Consider a workplace environment where some employees are highly engaged (“A” players), while others are unaccountable for meeting deadlines and consistently perform at a substandard level. This is a workplace designed to frustrate those committed to exemplary workplace behaviors. A and B players need to work with equally committed co-workers. When high performers work alongside disengaged employees, their incentive to work at full capacity diminishes.
Over time, when leaders fail to address the disparity in accountability, the result is a contagion of frustration, under-performance, and malaise that drags down the entire enterprise. In this environment, companies also see a drop in productivity, product and service quality, worker retention, and employee wellness.
In other words, leaders will always come up short on producing a highly engaged workforce if they don’t first achieve a culture of accountability.
Some of the most common obstacles to accountability for individuals are learned helplessness (“I’m not smart enough to get this right.”), a victim mentality (“This never would have happened if the team hadn’t abandoned me on this project.”), and grudge collecting (“This is just another example of senior leaders showing they don’t care about us.”).
In these cases, managers must develop non-punitive strategies to challenge the problematic behavior, such as offering guidance for more positive and effective performance, redirecting employees toward problem-solving, and listening and affirming employee concerns immediately followed by the mutual development of an action plan going forward.
Organizational barriers to accountability
Lack of accountability can manifest itself with individuals, but it can also be fostered by an organization that tolerates the conditions that lead to it. Institutional habits, left uncorrected, can encourage a lack of accountability by undermining clarity about who is responsible for what. An organization (and its leaders) with unclear priorities, a silo mentality, or habitual conflict avoidance inevitably corrodes accountability.
To prevent the deterioration of accountability in their organizations, senior leaders can focus on more inclusive decision making, agreeing on outcomes and priorities as a group, and ensuring clear and open communication organization-wide. This helps clarify the organization’s goals and responsibilities for achieving them. For example, employees typically perform better when they understand why what they are doing specifically contributes to organizational success. In short, managers and senior leaders bear responsibility for establishing the conditions that encourage employees to be accountable.
Creating a culture of accountability
How do they do that? First, leaders must hold themselves to high standards in developing relationships that promote trust with employees, and help others do the same. By demonstrating integrity, follow-through, competence, and openness to feedback, they help create a culture of accountability.
Recent discoveries in neuroscience describe a human brain that yearns for emotional safety and security. People perform best when they feel safe, both physically and emotionally. Inconsistent accountability in a workplace erodes the trust that people feel in the leadership, flooding the brain with feelings of insecurity. This is not conducive to engagement or high performance, or ultimately to improved business outcomes.
HOW TO FOSTER ACCOUNTABILITY IN WORKPLACE?
There are various ways that you can take to encourage and foster accountability at your workplace.
MAKE IT A VALUE
It is important that accountability is made a part of your organization’s culture and everyday operations. Talk about it in meetings, implement corporate training, encourage employees to share their ideas and what it means to them. Corporate Training It should not just remain as a definition. Your aim should be to blend accountability in the organization’s basic thread. It should become an overall goal and should have consequences when it is not met.
The morale of all the employees goes down when a few non-performing employees don’t face action and repercussions.
One of the easiest ways in which accountability can rise exponentially in your company is to have clear goals for each department and each member of the team. Tangible goals with set deadlines and process work best. Have clear outline about what is expected from the employees. Also make sure that you set personalized goals. These are an important part of teamwork as they highlight how important an individual is as a team member.
It is the responsibility of the entire team to be accountable and answerable. If one team member slacks, the other’s work will automatically be affected in a negative way. Also it is essential that while setting goals you emphasize on what’s not important and what’s not a priority. Employees handling too many roles and with many responsibilities may reduce the overall productivity and accountability. Therefore, always make sure that the goals set are achievable and realistic.
HIGHLIGHT KEY METRICS
Show your employees the metrics of their performance. This way you can enhance the overall accountability in the workplace. Highlighting these metrics means that each employee will have to engage with the outcome of their work. Sharing the outcome of each goal is an effective way to validate commitment and dedication in employees. This way you are communicating clearly what is expected from them.
Also another advantage of highlighting metrics is that it encourages healthy competition. When an employee accomplishes a goal and gets appreciation and recognition for it, it is a boost to their morale and motivation. And acknowledging that they didn’t reach their goal this time will inspire them to work a lot harder the next time.
INCLUDE EVERYONE IN ACCOUNTABILITY
Including everyone in accountability goes hand-in-hand with setting individual goals. Many times employees assume that accomplishing team goals is the responsibility of only the team leader or manager. But this is not true. It is important that each employee knows about their individual contribution to the project and that they are an integral part of the team. This way the employee will feel values and worthy. Also make sure you encourage employees to speak up if they notice some other employee is slacking in their goals.
CREATE A SUPPORTING ENVIRONMENT
In many workplaces employees focus on finding who is at fault when a problem arises. This is particularly seen in workplaces where trust amongst employees is low. In low trust environment, employees dread accountability because they worry about the consequences of their mistakes. On the other hand, in high trust environment employees go the extra distance, stay accountable and responsible, and are confident that they can rectify their mistakes. A high trust environment can be created and will flourish when managers praise their employees and build their teams’ confidence.
Listen and Affirm Employee Concerns
Leaders sometimes tend to share the opinion that their perspective is the only one that counts which can lead them to the wrong path. Listen to and affirm the concerns of your team members and stand accountable for previously taken actions. The same applies to concerns about other employees’ work. Any misdirection should be followed by the mutual collaboration and development of an action plan going forward.
This will help your team members to understand the importance of accountability but at the same time, it will provide them with a realization that noticing the previously made mistakes and standing responsible for them will lead to a mutual solution. That is how you’ll achieve a more engagement in the work environment.
Communicate Constantly with Your Employees about Their Performance
Some of the most common obstacles to accountability for individuals are learned helplessness. Phrases such as “I’m not smart enough to get this right”, “This never would have happened if the team hadn’t abandoned me”, “This is just another example of senior leaders showing they don’t care about us” can become a regular excuse of employees who avoid being accountable. Deal with this obstacle by constantly discussing their performance and providing them with solutions on how to improve it. Don’t leave them space to find justification, create an environment where you only want to hear about suggestions and solutions.
Make employee’s accountable for their behavior by communicating on how to improve their current actions. It is of high importance that every feedback you give includes a praise as well, thus giving them the motivation to keep the current work-flow. Showing your team members that you pay attention to every individual’s work and that you care about their progress will evoke the feeling of accountability and increase the engagement.
Strategies for embedding a culture of accountability in the workplace
Lead by example – Senior Leaders need to demonstrate accountability each and every day – not just when things go well. If staff see the senior team playing a blame game or ‘duck the blame’ game, then they will too.
Set clear boundaries – It’s much easier to hold people to account if the boundaries are clear so that employees understand what is expected of them and are aware of what are acceptable standards and behaviours. Make sure they know what they are doing and what is required of them in accordance with their job description.
Develop managers skills – It is the way the manager handles making someone accountable and the way that is delivered that is the key. The focus should be on positive behaviours and not ‘telling off’, with the objective of improving accountability and performance. Make sure your managers have the capabilities to make people accountable in a positive manner by considering accountability training or 1-1 coaching sessions with managers.
Deal with those who reject personal accountability – Explain what personal accountability is about – don’t assume they know. Explore their views/fears on taking responsibility and find out what is stopping them from being personally accountable. Ask them for their ideas to help turn this around and identify what support you can give them. Document what they commit to doing and agree a timescale for them to change their behaviour. If things don’t improve then you can look to take steps towards formal action.
Let’s split up challenge into two parts. First, there is the importance of collapsing time. A vital quality that great leaders demonstrate is that they will challenge employees to not only be productive today but also set achievable goals—and then help them reach those goals—for the coming years. One way to do that is to emphasize the importance of collapsing time.
Take, for example, Thomas Keller, chef and founder of two Michelin three-star restaurants, The French Laundry and Per Se. He says that early in his career, where he started as a dishwasher, he did as much as he could to finish the dishes efficiently so he could spend more time watching the chef de cuisine’s techniques. Put another way, Keller was collapsing time and then spending it on efforts that would help his later career.
The parallel to business shouldn’t go unnoticed. By helping employees focus on collapsing time (getting the work done that they need to do today but knowing what they want to achieve tomorrow), managers can help them prioritize the importance of developing future ideas—something critical because businesses are in a constant state of change and need to continuously innovate.
The other aspect of how leaders can challenge employees comes from a concept called achievable challenge, which is the idea that a manager stretches but doesn’t overwhelm employees. Think about it from the perspective of a video game. All players start at level 1. Those who demonstrate more dexterity move quickly to the next level and the one after that, with each getting successively harder until players reach their ultimate level. Video games are addictive because they challenge players with something new at each level that is just a little harder than the last but still within reach. Similarly, in organizations, it’s important for leaders to set challenges appropriately—ones that stretch employees but don’t encourage them to give up because it’s too far beyond their own capabilities.