We hear a lot about the need for accountability in the workplace. Recent research identified the positive and significant impact of accountability on organisational performance (Han & Hong, 2019), providing good examples of accountability and ownership within the workplace of the US Federal Government. Indeed, there are plenty of good reads available that highlight why accountability is vital to your company (Hall 2019).
But what exactly do people mean when they discuss accountability and how do you promote accountability in your workplace?
In its purest sense, accountability means accepting responsibility for one’s actions and behaviours. Relating this definition back to the workplace, we can infer that an accountable colleague is one who takes ownership of their goals, objectives and tasks, along with the behaviours they demonstrate in the delivery of each of these.
There is a slight problem with this though. It’s very one-sided in its assumptions and expectations. How many people in your workplace would love to be accountable but are unable because of factors beyond their control? Lots I would imagine.
There is, of course, a requirement from the organisation and its leaders to facilitate an environment where accountability can exist and thrive.
So, how do you increase accountability? More specifically, how do you ensure your leaders are doing all they can to help? Well, here are 10 top tips for promoting accountability, these will guide you in the right direction and help you to develop appropriate foundations so all your colleagues can ‘own their role’.
Tips for promoting accountability in the workplace
- Provide role clarity. Ensure that people are clear about their role, what they are responsible for delivering and how their input feeds into the ‘bigger’ organisational picture. This approach also applies to team goals, where people are responsible for specific elements of a broader goal. It’s essential for people to know with complete transparency, their goals/objectives, who else is involved, and what deliverables are expected by when.
- Apply consequences consistently and fairly. There is a consequence to all aspects of performance, good and bad. The leader needs to apply effective and consistent outcomes for each. By doing so, you are providing clarity on performance expectations, ensuring everyone knows where they stand. In turn, this builds trust. In simple terms, people can see evidence of good performance being rewarded, and below-par performance being addressed.
- Delegate, but remain responsible. As a leader, even when you’ve delegated a task, it’s crucial to remain responsible for the outcome and to stay involved. Whilst providing a persuasive argument for delegating, Gallo (2012) suggests, “don’t walk away from a task you’ve delegated. Stay involved, but let your employee lead the way.”
- Be sure of the capability of those you delegate to. It’s crucial that the person who is delegated to has the necessary skills and knowledge to deliver the task you ask of them. If they do not, consider how you provide them with the opportunity to learn these through the delivery of the task, or what wider development is required prior to delegating to them. Naturally, those colleagues who are not wholly up to speed will require you to be more ‘hands-on’ when delegating.
- Support your colleague’s ideas. Let your team try to solve problems, rather than suggesting that your ideas need to be delivered verbatim. This will grow their competence and confidence to take ownership to resolve issues moving forwards (Browning 2012).
- Foster a no-blame culture. If you are a person that feels the need to identify a culprit if things go wrong, then you can forget about people willingly accepting responsibility. Putting is blunt, if this is your attitude, people will be fearful and disempowered. Fear causes defensiveness, lack of engagement and aggression, all counter-productive to your aims. People need to be able to be innovative with their approach to problem-solving and take calculated risks – things won’t always work perfectly the first time, but they need the freedom to try.
- Seek & provide feedback. As a leader, you can seek feedback from your colleagues about ways you can improve. You can encourage this in others too so that they can continuously strive to improve (McCullough 2019). If you see colleagues doing a good job, be sure to acknowledge this and praise them.
- Share information and resources. If leaders and employees are to be accountable, they need to have access to all the information available, and plenty of resources to tackle the issues they encounter (CCL).
- Encourage a culture of ownership. For employees to thrive and feel they ‘can’ be accountable, encourage them to think about how they will own their activities and actions, using open questions to facilitate effective discussions. When turning up the accountability dial and holding your team accountable, Dave Bailey suggests that one of the most helpful open questions a leader can ask is, “what will you do about it?” (Bailey 2019).
- Be a role model. As a leader, you also need to show that you are also accountable so that your colleagues can follow in your footsteps. Ensure that you keep promises. If you say you’ll do something, make sure you do. Always have clear communication with stakeholders to keep people in the loop. Make sure you meet deadlines and the quality standards expected. This shows that you have integrity and can be trusted. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver rather than vice-versa. Jennifer Porter suggests that to improve a team, it’s crucial for leaders to first work on themselves. Leaders need to hold themselves accountable, take responsibility for problems and stick with them until they’re resolved (Porter 2019).
By applying these steps over time, leaders and organisations will encourage and benefit from individual’s that understand and want to be accountable for their own role; creating consistently high-performance outcomes for everyone. As Gleeson (2016) suggests, “accountability in the workplace, is probably the single most important element fuelling truly successful organisations”, so it’s well worth taking the time to set people up for success.
Bailey, D. (2019). ‘How to Hold Your Team Accountable,’ The Founder Coach (Online). Available: https://medium.dave-bailey.com/how-to-hold-your-team-accountable-9fa57bfb315d (accessed 16th June 2019)
Browning, H. (2012). ‘7 Ways to Build Accountable Organizations’ Forbes (Online). Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ccl/2012/02/28/7-ways-to-build-accountable-organizations/#2bd15fce3cd3 – (accessed 16th June 2019)
Centre for Creative Leadership. ‘Yes, You Can Increase Accountability’. CCL (Online). Available: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/yes-you-can-increase-accountability/ – (accessed 16th June 2019)
Gallo, A. (2012). ‘Why Aren’t You Delegating?’ Harvard Business Review (Online). Available: https://hbr.org/2012/07/why-arent-you-delegating – (accessed 16th June 2019)
Gleeson, B. (2019). ‘Why Accountability is Critical for Achieving Winning Results.’ Forbes (Online). Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2016/12/08/why-accountability-is-critical-for-achieving-winning-results/#96eb40645e11 – (accessed 16th June 2019)
Hall, J (2019). ‘Why Accountability Is Vital To Your Company’. Forbes (Online). Available: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnhall/2019/10/06/why-accountability-is-vital-to-your-company/#996abd465800 (accessed May 2020)
Han, Y., & Hong, S. (2019). The Impact of Accountability on Organizational Performance in the U.S. Federal Government: The Moderating Role of Autonomy. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 39(1), 3–23. Available: https://doi.org/10.1177/0734371X16682816 – (accessed May 2020)
McCullough, C. (2019). ‘The Five C’s of Leadership and Team Accountability (Updated for 2019).’ Rhythm Systems (Online). Available: https://www.rhythmsystems.com/blog/the-five-cs-of-team-accountability – (accessed 16th June 2019)
Porter, J. (2019). To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself. Harvard Business Review (Online). Available: https://hbr.org/2019/01/to-improve-your-team-first-work-on-yourself – (accessed May 2020)