Taking Action to Increase Accountability

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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:

  1. Clarify expectations – in terms of expected results and behaviors.
  2. Inspect what you expect – check on the results and the process to see if expectations are being met and reinforce/acknowledge the good and comment, question and correct the bad. Clarify the expectations again if situations change or there is apparent confusion.
  3. Lead by example/walk the talk – ensure your behavior is consistent with what you ask of others because employees will follow your example more than your words.
    Provide the information and resources required to achieve your expectations.
  4. Use visual indicators so that employees get immediate feedback on whether they are winning or losing without having to wait until a month-end meeting or performance review to see how they are progressing.
  5. Confront and correct continuing unacceptable behavior and performance up to and including termination. While many organizations will use a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) the reality is that most of the time it doesn’t work out and you should have provided a fair severance and moved on. Some say this is harsh – remember that holding people accountable is a positive motivator to your high performers and solid middle-performers.