What You MUST Know About Accountability in the Workplace

I have recruited, interviewed and hired many people over the years. High on my list of qualities I look for is accountability. Many of the technical skills we require can be learned on the job but finding someone that is willing to be truly accountable for their actions, is difficult. I am not alone in this. The Workplace Accountability Study recently revealed that 82% of respondents had no ability to hold others accountable, but yet 91% of people rank accountability as one of the top development needs they’d like to see enhanced at their organization.

While there is a lot of talk about accountability there is little discussion or understanding of what it truly means. Being accountable is the quality or state of being required to explain actions or decisions to someone. Being held accountable involves ‘paying the price’ for one’s actions. In cases of misconduct, some kind of sanction is often imposed. Although accountability should involve more than just having one’s actions publicly exposed, sometimes the embarrassment and social stigma of having one’s bad behaviour exposed to the public may in itself constitute a costly sanction.

Organizations spend enormous amounts of time and energy defining jobs, roles, and goals. Based on that they have to then figure out how to reward or punish when things go well or poorly. The assumption is that people will perform more effectively if they know exactly what they are supposed to accomplish and what will happen if they make or miss the target.

But in reality, this is much harder than it sounds.

Accountability can be difficult to manage

Organization structures are complex

With new age ideas like holacracy (self-management) and the changing nature of contracts between workers and employers, it is hard to get a sense of who exactly needs to be accountable. Tasks in reality often cross over multiple job descriptions. Work is not linear and employees may report to different people depending on what task they are trying to complete.

Work and processes are constantly evolving

Organizations need to be able to switch up strategy and tactics to meet market demands and remain competitive. These changes in directions and goals are often not communicated throughout the organization effectively. That leaves employees unclear about their direct impact on organizational goals.

Accountability becomes an organizational priority only when something goes wrong

Accountability usually only comes up in a negative context and no one wants to be responsible for the things that go wrong. Organizations tend to be reactive when it comes to their discussions about accountability.

As difficult as the discussion is, organizations need to pay attention to accountability and how it is defined and implemented in the organization. Low accountability leads to mistrust which in turn leads to low morale and causes workers to devalue the work. And we all know that if an employee is not engaged with the organization, they are not productive. We are also all living in the public eye as technology has exponentially increased the volume, geographic reach, and speed of news. Businesses today have nowhere to hide from their failures and mistakes.

As a result, businesses need to be more transparent and accountable than ever, or risk losing the trust of the public and its customer base. Volkswagen’s emission scandal and Samsung’s product failures are evidence of the reputational damage that can occur due to the lack of accountability. And of how quickly their reputation and revenues can be affected. We all have much more information at our fingertips which gives us the ability to make quick, informed decisions about where we spend our resources. This access to information and overall greater visibility should lead to more accountable organizations and governments.

Here are some tips to help you drive accountability in your organization:

  • Set guidelines publicly about how you’ll monitor employee productivity.
  • Set weekly goals and deliverables so that employees are motivated to complete tasks on a regular basis rather than just annual goals.
  • Have a clear communication plan for your team.
  • Make sure it is clear who is accountable for what.
  • Utilize tools that allow you to set who is formally and informally responsible for tasks and deliverables. Technology can play an important role in defining and monitoring accountability.
  • Survey employees to make sure they have the education and equipment to make decisions that will make them effective

Accountability is closely related to transparency. When people can get better information and seek assistance easily to meet their goals, accountability will become easier to establish in the organization. Technology can play an important role. Workflow tools and online check-in systems are more readily available on the market and they can help with accountability by using technology for what it does best – keeping track of complex information and rules.

(Reposted from Marnie's LinkedIn)

marnie_pic_blogAbout the Author:

Marnie Larson is the CEO of StarGarden Corporation and oversees its operations in Canada, US and New Zealand. She has over 20 years’ experience in the software industry and specializes in HCM, Business process automation and Workflow technology.

Follow Marnie on Twitter: @mblarson