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How to Build a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace

Job Ad: Looking for a self-driven individual who can complete tasks independently with minimal guidance.

Isn’t this a common sentence from job postings? But there are a lot of things that are wrong with this. First and foremost, no individual is self-driven to the extent that they perform tasks without guidance. If there is no culture of accountability in the workplace, or the checks and balances are missing or lacking, chances are that even the highest performing employee’s performance will be impacted.

Building a Culture of Accountability

Workplace accountability means being answerable for the tasks assigned to the employee. It means giving due importance to the goals and objectives defined. Imagine a sales employee who consistently misses their sales targets.

The boss might be too occupied to maintain a check and balance. The sales employee knows that there are no consequences for missing targets, therefore, he continues to slack off even if he might have good potential to perform.

Employees cannot work just by being motivated by the salary they receive. There needs to be a push that makes them accountable for their actions in the workplace and their performance. Many times, expectations from employees are unclear and the system is corrupt or flawed.

When the boss does not take note of the problems that come in the way of the productivity of the employees, they can make an unvalued contribution. And this perception is not limited to one person. It can be demotivating for the entire team if there is no strong sense of accountability.

Here are some tips for building a culture of accountability in the workplace:

Excessive control does not result in accountability

Excessive and strict controls in place like strict work hours, closely monitored KPIs, or compensating for time off do not lead to accountability.

Excessive controls might seem a solution, but it is demotivating for the employees as the micromanaging makes them lose their sense of control. Accountability comes from within and intrinsic motivation is key for personal accountability.

Furthermore, when a leader becomes accountable for their team, they lead by example and show how the employees should be accountable to themselves and the team.

Developing a system of accountability

Sometimes when accountability is being discussed at the workplace, the targets are often poor performers and those who fail to follow through.

Developing accountability does not mean focusing on a single or a couple of persons. It means developing a system including the entire team and making them accountable for the progress of the whole team. For example, putting sales employees in teams that have joint goals helps them to push each other to perform their level best.

Also, at times policies and processes are not in a place that makes accountability possible. For example, updating daily activity logs might be useful for employees working in startups where everyday new tasks are assigned. Sales employees might enter numbers for every week. Also, monthly meetings that involve employees sharing their progress add to the importance of performing and increase the sense of accountability.

Making sure the metrics are shared

At times the lack of transparency of performance measurement standards results in a lack of accountability. People who are not performing up to the mark might not know what they are expected to do or what the good performers are doing right.

At times unjust favoritism amongst employees also tends to reduce the accountability of the employees who do not get the limelight.

It might be that the person is not equipped with the skills and the training to perform the job as effectively as another person might be performing. In any case, the basis on which performance will be measured should be shared so the employees know exactly what they need to do to improve their performance.

Deliver clear instructions

Many managers are not trained or just don’t give out clear instructions. They might expect the subordinates to follow through. If a new employee joins the team, they might not be familiar with the work and so the performance expected of them.

Also, every employee is different, and an open-door policy can help in clearing out any confusion that the employees might have. For example, “we will be more accountable from now on” is ambiguous and doesn’t deliver the complete message. Instead of this saying “we will update the daily logs/ weekly logs and discuss the progress each week” is clear.

Reward good performers

Believe it or not, the carrot and stick approach does wonders for building a culture of accountability. Those employees who follow the processes, meet goals and communicate issues should be rewarded.

Compared to this, those who fail to follow processes (like meeting deadlines or coming to work at a set time) should bear consequences unless they have a genuine reason for doing so.

Keeping an open mind

Many times employees might be underperforming or not meeting deadlines or coming on time because of personal issues. As much as accountability is important, so is being empathetic. The manager should be interested in learning the issues that the employee is facing when doing the work.

When they seem genuinely concerned, the person might share their issues so that the manager and the employee can work together.

For example, a sick family member might be keeping the employee from fulfilling their duties. Allowing them schedule flexibility can increase their accountability and their performance as they perceive through their actions that they are valued members of the team.

Connecting personal goals with the company

Employees are highly accountable to themselves when they feel that their performance will lead them one step closer to their personal goals. Perhaps their personal goal is to become a homeowner, or they might have a career-related goal.

In this case, the manager needs to know what personal goals the employee has and try to connect them to the everyday work they do. Offering them learning and development opportunities can result in them becoming accountable as they know performing well on the job based on the new learning will help them progress towards their career goal.

Summing it Up

Employees, just like parts of a machine, need to be well-oiled to perform effectively. When an employee knows that their contribution matters and learns how their performance is being appreciated or is bringing them closer to their personal goals, they become more engaged with the work and more accountable for the work assigned to them.

However, if an employee’s poor performance is not noted or it does not have any consequences for them, the accountability reduces, no matter how hardworking the employee might be.

So, in essence, a self-driven individual can only become self-driven when they are aligned with the system like the gears of a machine, running the whole system smoothly.

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