Taking Action to Increase Accountability
Let’s define accountability as having a sense of ownership over your work and receiving consequences for your actions and behaviors. Those consequences can either be positive (praise, promotion, recognition, compensation, more freedom) or the consequences can be negative (correction, discipline, demotion, less freedom.)
Accountability is Mutual, Not One-way
Mutual accountability occurs where the leaders are accountable to the employees and the employees are in turn accountable to the leaders and the organization. Many employees correctly point out that they don’t see their leaders “walking the talk.” If management doesn’t seem to care, why should we?
Accountability and Trust
Trust links to accountability. If you keep your promises, admit to your mistakes and take responsibility, both trust and accountability increase. Not every promise can be kept, nor every commitment met, but the willingness to confront reality and make adjustments can create a mutually accountable relationship between manager and employee.
Accountability Requires Involvement
For me to be accountable, I have to agree to what is being asked of me. If a target is imposed on me without my consent and buy-in, it will be a challenge to hold me accountable. Hold on just a minute you say – I have targets imposed on me from corporate and I don’t have a say in them or a chance to argue about it, and then I suffer the consequences when we fall short!
Agreed. Sometimes our consent is implied because we are an employee of an organization. In the same way as you must follow the laws of the country in which you live or visit without signing a document saying you agree to do so. The key in these situations where targets are imposed, and not negotiated, is to explain the “why” – the importance of what is being asked and give the freedom for the employee to figure out how to best meet the goal.
Punishment Isn’t the Answer but Some Wouldn’t Hurt
Often when an organization wants to increase accountability it looks to ramp up the punishment side of the equation – using more progressive discipline and threat of termination to punish low performance or bad behavior. Taken too far this strategy can cause a culture of fear and defensiveness. If the probability of punishment far outweighs positive reinforcement, employees will hunker down and do the bare minimum.
One global electronics firm found in their worldwide employee engagement survey that a significant negative factor for most employees was seeing co-workers “get away” with unacceptable behavior and performance.
Addressing some of the worst behaving and performing employees would send a good message and likely cause some marginal employees to step it up. However, the overall focus should be heavily tilted to positive reinforcement to create a culture of high performance and engagement.
Action Steps to Increase Accountability
If you work from the premise that 97% of employees want to meet the expectations you have of them, then you can apply these basic steps to increase accountability: