How to embed employee accountability in your workplace culture

How to embed employee accountability in your workplace culture

Employee accountability doesn’t come easily. But without it, all hell can break loose.

Lack of accountability at work doesn’t just mean that things don’t get done. It can completely sour the working environment.

Think about it.

If no one owns the responsibility of achieving a specific objective, it’s not likely to get done.

Then, when you come around asking why it’s not been done - there’s no accountability, so fingers get pointed. The blame game begins.

It’s the start of a cycle of missed targets and blame that can escalate into a toxic working environment.

While ‘employee accountability’ is often considered to be a personality trait, it’s also something you can design into your team and business. As with many human behaviours - what gets rewarded, gets repeated. And, of course, the path of least resistance is often the most well-trodden. So, why not take a few minutes to learn how to make accountability easy and appealing?

Examples of accountability in the workplace

Accountability in the workplace isn’t just about owning up when you make a mistake. Here are some other behaviours that thrive within a strong accountability culture.

  • Openness and transparency about things people are struggling with, whether that’s tasks they don’t feel able to complete well or their own wellbeing causing them to underperform.
  • Identifying and speaking up about issues created by other people that could affect the whole project or team.
  • Contributing time and knowledge to enhance projects that others hold the main responsibility for.
  • Continuing to develop individual professional knowledge and skills in the way that most benefits the organisation or project at hand.

It takes more than choosing ‘Accountability’ as one of your values! So here’s how to bake workplace accountability into the very culture of your organisation.

Interview for accountability

“Tell me about a time you had to own up to a mistake? Or a time where you missed a target?”

These can be really tricky questions to answer, so it’s a good idea to prime the recruiter or candidate that you’ll want examples of these things. You’re interested in the content of these answers, not the delivery; allow people the time to prepare a solid response.

What you’re looking for here is a) proof that they are aware of negative things that they have been responsible for and b) an indication of how they resolved the issue. Did they own up and fix it in the way you would like to see things done in your organisation?

Put accountability processes in place

Use Who, What, When on every list of actions. Use Retros. Have a formal process for performance management, and incorporate A) your company mission and objectives in with leadership and individual objectives, and B) individual overall objectives in with their line manager’s objectives. Run a Roles & Responsibilities workshop, and re-do it whenever the team or project grows/changes.

If someone can ask you “And who’s responsible for that part of the project?” and you don’t have a clear answer, that’s a good sign that you need to work on your employee accountability practices.

You can’t force people to take personal accountability, but you can make it easy for them to do so. And people do want to feel like they have autonomy at work, which means being accountable; it’s a sign of your trust in their abilities that they’re able to make meaningful mistakes.

Make employee accountability pay

Choose a timeframe that works for you - say every quarter - and run a short session where everyone has to identify one thing they messed up, and the learning. Make it a fun, friendly session that is supportive and ensure that everyone contributes. Have a list of ‘nudges’ you can provide if anyone shows up without having done their own reflection!

By doing this you normalise (and even celebrate) the 'downs' that accompany the 'ups'; you can't have one without the other.

As a leader, it’s vital for you to take part in this. That means identifying your own mistakes or failings, and owning up when you believe that others have failed in part due to a lack of support from you. Their successes are your successes, which means the same goes for failures too!

Celebrate the positive side of accountability culture

As we already mentioned, personal responsibility is a key element of employee motivation. If you hire people you can trust and set them up for success, there should be plenty to celebrate. Make sure to do so! Fully credit your employees for their successes and celebrate when they show examples of accountability in the workplace, so that they can see the positive side of taking ownership.

We’re willing to bet that many workplaces that don’t trust employees to get the job done, particularly remotely or without productivity trackers, also focus too much on input rather than outcomes. Accountability is an essential building block in any thriving organisation - and it can’t be faked.

In an accountable workplace, you’ll know that even if things fail, you and your team gave it your best.

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