Accountability is important in all areas of life. Put simply, it’s about being responsible for, and being able to justify your actions.
In the workplace, accountability fuels success
It demands clear messages from the very top. The unambiguous communication of the company’s mission, values and objectives – and then setting a collective expectation about holding people to them. But like many things, sometimes it is easier said than done.
A study by Partners in Leadership showed that 82% of their respondents had limited or no ability to hold others accountable. The need to create this ability was highlighted as one of the most pressing leadership development needs.
In some organisations, accountability is viewed in a negative light
Why? Because it’s not tackled correctly. Dictating a set of rules is not the same as making people accountable. This approach simply generates a feeling that the management is trying to somehow catch people out. It leads to the exact opposite of accountability. People are worried about the consequences of mistakes, and look at how they can cover their tracks. A blame culture develops, where no-one is prepared to accept responsibility but tries to pass fault to others.
This, in turn, hits employee morale. If the staff feel they can’t trust their bosses, they feel devalued. And devalued employees are far less likely to be engaged in their jobs. It becomes a vicious downward spiral.
It’s all about culture
The first move towards a more accountable workplace is ensuring that your culture embraces it. Absolutely key to this is a demonstration from the top down. As a manager, you must be open about your personal accountability, and you will influence your team to follow your actions. Knowing that everyone is personally accountable will help employees share a sense of responsibility. And of course, you need to ensure that your staff have the tools to do their job – from IT equipment to training for new skills. If you make absolutely sure everyone in the team knows how to do their job, and have the tools to do it well, then they are more likely to succeed.
Each organisation should create its own guidelines to accountability, but typically these might include a commitment to
- complete tasks by the agreed deadline
- communicate quickly any potential challenges
- admit to errors a soon as they are realised
- tell the truth about progress
- resolve conflict in a positive way
And it’s also about control
How much influence does your team actually have over their work? When employees are in control of making their own decisions, their accountability rockets. Conversely, when every one of their choices has to be Okayed by their superior, accountability significantly reduces.
Studies show that the most effective organisations are ones where everyone feels they have influence. When people don’t feel like they have a voice, and that they are constantly told what to do and how to do it, their investment in their job decreases.
Importantly, people must feel that they are allowed to make mistakes and will be supported when they happen. It’s a crucial step in learning and development and will give your team the confidence they need to take responsibility.
So, on the “to do” list, both for yourself and for your company, accountability should be right up there. Does your culture promote accountability? – If not, address it soon. Because the research clearly shows that accountability starts at the top.
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