Accountability in the workplace means that all employees are responsible for their actions, behaviors, performance, and decisions. It increases commitment to work and employee morale which leads to higher performance.
The challenge is that in today’s culture it the norm to pass the buck. Blaming someone else when things go wrong in the workplace or our lives has become culturally acceptable. We look for excuses as to why something is not working. We use things like “it has always been done this way”, “no one trained me”, “it is not my job” and so on. In your job whatever your role, when you accept responsibility for your actions and their ramifications it serves as a role model for others to be accountable. When everyone takes responsibility for their actions it helps to promote a better environment and culture. It inspires trust in the workplace.
4 Secrets to Building Accountability
- Define top key goals
When everyone in the organization knows what the top three to four goals it makes it easier to work as a team towards them.
- Give employees clear roles
According to a gallup.com article the biggest mistake businesses make is that employees do not have a clear understanding of what they are accountable for. Have you ever started a new job and the manager said here you go and walked away without giving you clear expectations and goals? This can be stressful and toxic for the culture. If you find yourself in this situation, you have the opportunity to inspire others. Take the initiative. If you are a manager, spend some time doing an honest self-evaluation on what your training style is like. Do you give clear expectations? If you want the employee to take an initiative to be sure you are clear in that as well.
For example, I asked my teenager about her experience with her first two jobs. The first job she had, the manager expected employees just to know, there was very minimal training. Fact, people cannot read your mind. My daughter’s first experience in the workforce was not a positive one. Her second job was the exact opposite. The manager was very clear in duties and expectations. The manager was kind and patient, answered questions, and did proper training.
As you advance in your career you might find yourself in a new role where the expectation is for you to figure it out. That needs to be clearly stated. For example, I applied for a position, was called in for an interview, the two people who interviewed said later that they knew I was overqualified. They recognized they needed my skill set for a future project. They offered me a job, not the one I applied for. I was told that I would be building the position from scratch and that the software and database troubleshooting they needed my skillset for had not been implemented yet. I knew clearly what my expectation was – I had to be innovative.
47% of workers reported receiving feedback from a manager “a few times or less” in the past year, and only 26% of employees agree that the feedback they receive helps them do their work better. What we learn from this is that we need to better at clearly outlining expectations and give good feedback that helps one another grow within whatever job you are doing.
- Give and receive feedback daily
The best what to create a culture of accountability is to have open communication and feedback. This goes for managers giving feedback to employees as well as creating a culture where employees can give good feedback to managers. In the book “Spark How to lead yourself and others to greater success” one of the authors, Sean Lynch shares an experience he had while he served in the air force. He was a flight instructor and learned that a general would be sitting in on the class that day as well as flying with him. He decided to treat the general like any member of the squadron. When they went up in the F-16 the General’s skills were rusty, as he contemplated how to give feedback to this general, he decided to be straight forward and not sugar coat things. He said, “I looked the general straight in the eye and told him what I observed, then gave him specific instances where he could have improved.” The general’s response was “thank you” and he agreed that he would need to brush up on his skills. When problems go unaddressed, performance suffers.
- Encourage Risk-taking
When it comes to challenges in life or work, we can sometimes become bogged down with the minutia of details. The old saying you can’t see the forest between the trees. How often have we stood at the base of the mountain and looked up, seeing the summit and not seeing the challenge of the mountain itself?
People will advance up the mountain at different paces, some faster some slower. Some take the direct route straight up and others will wind and weave their way around seeing for a less painful way to reach the top.
Let me tell you about these photos. This is Lake Louise in Banff National Park Canada. July 2017, I went home to visit family and I took my two boys on a short hike. My youngest whined and complained the whole way up. As we hiked the trail, we were sounded by pine trees and often we couldn’t see the summit. We finally get to the lookout point and you see the view looking at the Lake Louise Chateau. On the way down the mountain, he ran the whole way and then asked my sisters “Auntie what took you so long?”
As we climb the mountain and traverse through careers and life there are things we find and develop as we journey up. We need to experience the journey, the skills, and insights we gain as we learn to work in teams, lead others, and self-discovery that shape us into the individuals you are today and the individuals you will become. The summit serves only to set the direction in which we march. It is the committing to the path, following the twists and turn and sticking it out through thick and thin where we find deep joy and satisfaction and fulfillment in work and life.
When you make mistakes, miss expectations, or are part of a team that doesn’t make the cut, how you handle these critically important moments defines you as a leader. Demonstrating accountability means seeking ownership of mistakes, missteps, problems for things you are responsible for or associated with as a team member.
Accountability is the acknowledgment of a mistake and quickly moving beyond it to get to the solution. By continuously examining our mistakes, discussing problems openly, and applying lessons learned we ensure continuous growth and greater resiliency to challenges, all of which lead to success.
Cheryl Viola, MBA, Executive Director
- Gallup, I. (2019, June 3). 5 ways to promote accountability. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/257945/ways-create-company-culture-accountability.aspx
- Morgan, A., Lynch, C., & Lynch, S. (2017). Spark: How to lead yourself and others to greater success. Houghton Mifflin.
- Newell, M. (2019, March 6). The 4 secrets to building accountability in the workplace. Retrieved from https://www.partnersinleadership.com/insights-publications/the-4-secrets-to-building-workplace-accountability/