Are You Holding Your Employees Accountable?

When employees are accountable, they take responsibility for their work, behavior toward others, work-related decisions, and more.

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Are You Holding Your Employees Accountable?

As an employer, you have standards that you expect your employees to meet. To achieve these standards, employees must take responsibility for their work and behavior. Those who fail to take responsibility lack accountability. (This is assuming that your standards are legal and reasonable.)

Accountability is often viewed on an employee basis. However, it applies to employers, as well. Ultimately, if you do not have a culture of accountability, you’re setting yourself up for a workplace marred by irresponsible behavior. In other words, accountability is a two-way street.

In this article, we cover the meaning of accountability, along with benefits of accountability, consequences of lack of accountability, and tips for building a culture of accountability.

What does “accountability” mean?

Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

In the workplace, accountability means that employees should take responsibility for their:

  • Work — whether it’s excellent, good, average, or poor
  • Behavior toward others, such as coworkers and customers
  • Work-related decisions, whether ethical or unethical
  • Work-related mistakes, instead of blaming others or making excuses

For accountability to work, everyone must do their part — including business owners, executives, managers, supervisors, team leaders, and rank-and-file employees. But for that to happen, the employer must create constructive standards on accountability and implement strategies for obtaining them. With this type of system in place, you’re almost sure to reap the benefits.

What are the benefits of accountability?

The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) states that taking a constructive approach to accountability:

  • Improves job performance
  • Boosts employee participation and involvement
  • Increases employee confidence
  • Increases employees’ commitment toward their work
  • Enhances creativity and innovation
  • Strengthens employee morale and job satisfaction

You can gain these results by approaching accountability constructively – instead of solely as a tool for punishment.

According to the OPM, “when organizations use accountability as a big stick for punishing employees, fear and anxiety permeate the workplace. Employees are afraid to try new methods or propose new ideas for fear of failure.”

What are the consequences of lack of accountability?

When accountability is missing or incorrectly applied, it can lead to the following:

  • Employees fail to meet their performance goals
  • Unclear or ill-defined policies on accountability
  • Mistrust — for example, employees cannot be trusted to do their job correctly
  • Unequal standards — for example, holding rank-and-file employees accountable and letting managers off the hook
  • Decrease in employee morale and engagement
  • Increase in employee turnover

Steer clear of these outcomes by establishing (and maintaining) a culture of accountability.

How do I build a culture of accountability?

Next are best practices for implementing a culture of accountability.

Acknowledge the dangers of unhealthy accountability

In other words, know the impact that lack of accountability can have on your workplace. It doesn’t have to take a series of events or multiple employees for adverse effects to occur. Lack of accountability by just one employee can impact not only that individual but also the organization as a whole.

Remember that accountability starts at the top

You should not expect your rank-and-file employees to be accountable for standards that your management team plays fast and loose with. Leaders should lead by example.

Be clear about what employees are accountable for

Employees need to know exactly what your expectations are, to be able to meet them. They also need to know the priority of those expectations in order to fulfill them on time and in the right order. These expectations may be permanent, long term (but not permanent), or short term. Leaders, as well, should be fully informed on what they are accountable for.

Employees need to know exactly what your expectations are, to be able to meet them. They also need to know the priority of those expectations in order to fulfill them on time and in the right order.

Get employees’ input when setting performance goals

This helps ensure that the goals are realistic and attainable.

Give your employees the tools they need to accomplish their goals

Provide them with tools such as supplies, equipment, training, coaching, mentorship, and ongoing learning opportunities.

Emphasize that accountability pertains to task-related performance and employee conduct

For example, an employee is not being accountable if they achieve their performance goals but displays a negative attitude toward their manager (such as insolent or abusive language) and refuses to course-correct. There should be no ambiguity about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct at your workplace.

Monitor employees’ progress toward their goals and provide feedback

This applies to both task-oriented and behavioral goals. Feedback can take the form of customer and employee surveys, project updates, and performance reviews. However, the best form of feedback is regular dialogue between the manager and the employee, including one-on-meeting meetings. 

Recognize good performance

Praising and rewarding employees for doing good work motivates them to keep performing well and to accept responsibility for their role in the company. 

Establish accountability standards for your remote team, if applicable

Even while working at a distance, remote employees should be aware of your expectations for them. These expectations may focus on things like clocking in and out remotely, taking breaks, attending team meetings online, and completing assigned work on time. 

Incorporate accountability into your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts  

This is key to eliminating or minimizing unconscious bias in your employment practices and encouraging respectful behavior among your employees.

Make accountability a cornerstone of your business

This means integrating accountability into your company mission and helping employees see why a culture of accountability is essential. Along with that, inform leaders and employees of the repercussions of failing to demonstrate accountability when the situation calls for it.

Adopting accountability — positively

By making accountability a staple of your organization, you’re letting your employees know you expect them to take responsibility for their work, conduct, decisions, and performance. If you do not make this clear from the start, your employees are more likely to behave irresponsibly.

It’s important to adopt accountability in a positive way — instead of as solely a punitive measure. This means instituting policies that take a productive approach to accountability, and making sure no one within your company is exempt from accountability.

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