June 24, 2019

Employee Accountability: 5 Ways To Achieve It

Have you ever googled the word “accountability”? Do you know what are the connotations attached to the word? It is answerability, blameworthiness, liability etc. No wonder, employee accountability is such a hush-hush topic in the HR space. That's the reason why employees either end up -

  1. In a work environment where everything is pre-destined
  2. Or become prey of a blame game where they are held accountable for things they have little or no control
  3. Then there are some managers who let employees avoid accountability because they hate confrontation

But you know what? Pushing problems under the rug will not do your organisation any good. Employee accountability is important for any organisation to work well. Greater employee accountability has a direct correlation to higher performance and leads to enhanced capability, fosters innovation, increased dedication to the role, boosted morale, and higher levels of workplace satisfaction. However, before you take your first step towards workplace accountability, you need to understand what it is.

What is Employee Accountability?

Accountability as a word has evolved with its meaning. A word once considered a taint - a punishment, often associated with “being puppet” at the hands of the manager, is slowly turning into something positive. According to Jennifer Bridges, Management Consultant and Founder of a global mobile media agency - “accountability is all about obligation, ownership, initiative and the willingness to take responsibility. This refers to employees’ inner drive to step up and do what they think is the best for the business.”

As compared to the rabbit, stick and carrot gimmick, accountability lets employees take initiative, do mistakes, learn from them, leading to acceptance and feeling of belongingness towards their team and project. When managers and team members both accept accountability, they become more engaged in their project and stop passing the buck, so to speak.

Why is accountability so important?

A company is nothing but a product of the hard work of a group of dedicated people. Hence, when something goes wrong (or right), it is the responsibility of all members to get involved in the game. Accountability is, therefore, crucial to the efficiency and accuracy of work done by employees.

It also helps in:

  1. Dividing the burden of responsibility - Running a company is a relay race where all members (employees/managers) should get to hold the baton. Sharing “responsibility” will not only help employees learn how to manage things better but also reduce the manager’s burden of constant supervision. They can use the free time to address other pressing issues.
  2. Boosts self-reliance - Accountability ensures everyone in the team pull up their share of weight, and not rely on their managers/ other employees to pick up the slack.
  3. Instills fairness - According to Tom Ricks, “it is actually unfair on employees if management does not keep all staff accountable.” Such a phenomenon creates a culture of slackness, where only a handful of hardworking employees do the heavy work, and others get the opportunity to slack off. This not just leads to financial loss but a loss of talent too.
5 ways to achieve Accountability at work

Trust and support are very important to build a team of accountable employees. Your employees should feel motivated to do what is right and take responsibility when they are not. Instead of instilling fear and surveillance, try these 5 tips below if you want to improve workplace accountability.

Start it from the very start

The best way to infuse accountability in your office is to align employees to their goals and the company expectations from the very start. If you talk about your expectations at an early stage (during hiring), the employees will have an idea to what they are getting into. Hence, they will feel responsible and accountable for their jobs and action from the very start.

Such measures when taken early on, will help your company in setting expectations and hopefully will not lead to a situation where you need to “pull your employees aside”  to remind them what’s expected on a later stage.

Instead of weeding out slackers, address their concerns

All organisations have slackers. They are generally the ones who feel they don’t need to be accountable for their work. So, what do we do with these kinds of employees?

Well, we all know hiring and firing employees is expensive. Instead of weeding out the employees who are not working according to your expectations, identify them and address their concerns. Such an exercise will take away the scope of more excuses for not being accountable and compel them to work.

While there can be a wide range of reasons for slacking off, one of the most common ones is not getting recognised. As the leader of the team, it is your duty to dig deep and find the real reason for such discrepancy. In case, the problem seems to be related to rewards and recognition then, there are R&R tools that can provide the transparency and fairness you and your employees crave for.

Provide frequent feedback

If you want employees to be accountable then you must think more than conventional periodic performance feedbacks. For employees to feel responsible, your feedback needs to be frequent, actionable, honest and to the point. This will give your employee a better understanding of the work he/she doing and the constant contact with the superior will also increase his/her trust and belongingness towards the team.

And yes, we understand your time is important, too. Doing face time with your employees every now and then might not always seem doable. That’s where an employee feedback system will help you out.

Delegate Responsibilities

To drive favourable business results, it is important to delegate work to those who are best suitable for a specific task. As a well-meaning business owner, you may want to hold employees accountable for delivering results, but if you don’t give them the authority to choose his/her team, you are making a big mistake. Nothing impacts results than the choice of “who will do the work”. Hence, hold your employees accountable for results, by empowering them to make the decisions that impact the results.

Don’t cultivate fear

A culture where employees dread their managers might be a hit in getting short-term outcomes, however, it won't make the long haul. In fact, they will stop coming to you when they need the most, and might even end up leaving the organisation.

Think about positive reinforcement instead. Positive reinforcement is part of behavioural psychology and it works well in the office sphere too. After all,  isn’t accountability nothing but behaving in a certain way and being responsible for it?

Instead of constant criticism, try this -

Whenever your employees make progress or breakthrough (no matter how small it might be), praise them and give them pointers on do it better. By doing this you will become more approachable. They will be motivated to take up responsibilities and become more accountable, knowing that you always have their back.

To wrap things up

Individuals exhibit responsibility consistently by fulfilling their duties and doing what needs to be done. When expectations are clear and people have the best possible abilities, learning, and assets to perform, they become accountable. With the help of leaders who act as role models and show responsibility, the employee gets to witness the contrast between exertion and results and gets to learn from it too.

Poonam Das