Accountability in the workplace
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September 25, 2020

Building accountability in the workplace isn’t easy. Whether you have 20+ employees or 1,000+, the core challenge is the same. How do you empower a diverse workforce, with all their unique strengths and backgrounds, while keeping them accountable to organizational values and goals? It’s a thin line, but one that is necessary to walk.

On one hand, you don’t want to force people to conform to “your way of doing things.” You hired them for their unique talents, after all. But on the other hand, there needs to be some level of accountability—a culture that supports employees while maintaining the highest standards.

When this balance is achieved, it fosters a culture of accountability that gives employees ownership over their work. It improves team and individual productivity. It builds trust and collaboration between team members. And ultimately, it helps your organization perform at a higher level. Sounds pretty ideal, right?

The key is to take a positive, empowering approach rather than a negative, punitive one.

In this article, we’ll discuss what organizational accountability is, why people cringe when they hear the word “accountability,” and how you can increase accountability in the workplace. If the accountability process feels unwieldy, frustrating, and unattainable, keep reading.

What is accountability in the workplace?

Organizational accountability is about defining the company’s mission, values, and goals, as well as everyone’s role in working toward them.

It’s about holding employees and executives responsible for accomplishing these goals, completing assignments, and making decisions that deliver on these expectations.

Organizational accountability is not a set of strict rules that can never be broken and that are enforced with punitive measures.

This drives a reactive culture of “management by rules and regulations” rather than a proactive environment of responsibility. The end result? Employees (at best) resist accountability or (at worst) fear accountability.

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Why we cringe when thinking about accountability

Think back to when you were a child and your parents told you to do something that didn’t seem to make any sense.

When you inevitably asked them “why,” they may have given the cliche response, “because I said so.” It probably frustrated you and made you angry.

Adults are no different.

It’s a natural reaction to question things that don’t make sense, to resist when given an order without a clear explanation of “why.”

People resist (and fail to support) what they don’t understand, including accountability in the workplace.

That’s why creating a culture of accountability can’t be done in a vacuum. It should be part of a larger company-wide initiative of transparent communication, hiring the right people, culture change, compliance initiatives, and more.

When accountability is one piece of the puzzle, there is less resistance because employees understand the “why” and see how it fits into the bigger picture. Here are five ways to start painting a bigger picture for your employees.

How to increase accountability in the workplace

When you design a work environment with built-in responsibility at all levels, it will flourish. Here’s how to create accountability.

1. Start with clarity and set expectations

The foundation of accountability in the workplace is defining clear roles, responsibilities, leadership structure, and clarity of ownership of projects and goals. To succeed in this fundamental step, clear communication and transparency in decisions are vital.

Another key element? Developing clear policies and procedures.

They may seem stale and boring, but when people understand the purpose behind policies and procedures and have clear guidelines to follow, they are more likely to do what is right.

Your employees want to know how to proceed in the right way instead of playing a guessing game. Make it easy for them to do the right thing.

The simplest way to ensure employees follow guidelines and meet expectations is to give them easy access to all your important documents.

Policy management software like PowerDMS can help how you manage, track, and provide access to your most important documents. With PowerDMS, you can set different levels of access to employees and create custom groups, making it easy to disseminate information, updated documents, etc. to relevant stakeholders.

goal-focused accountability in the workplace

2. Make accountability goal-focused

One of the biggest challenges, and most important steps, is getting employees to see how their individual contributions play into the larger mission, vision, and values of the company.

The closer employees are to leadership, the easier it is. But the opposite is also true. The further away they are, the harder it can be to make those connections.

If employees understand the bigger picture and see how their work furthers the organization’s goals, they will find more purpose in their work and performance will improve. The more you can tie accountability to larger goals, instead of individual activities, the more effective accountability in the workplace will be.

For leaders, conversations and one-on-one meetings with employees is instrumental in casting vision, helping them see how their work is an important puzzle piece in the organization’s goals. This is where you’d set SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, timely) with each member of your team, providing clear direction and expectations.

As an example, let’s say you’re working on a marketing campaign. The marketing manager determines the concept and timing for the campaign, your copywriter crafts the content, and your designer does the graphics.

If all team members do their job, but the designer doesn’t get the artwork done on time, the whole project stalls. If the designer doesn’t understand that he is the hold-up, you’ve got a disconnect and accountability fails.

But when the designer knows from the start that project kick-off is Monday and he’s expected to submit his final designs by Friday because his artwork is a crucial part of the campaign, accountability flourishes.

The designer takes pride in being part of the finished project and knows that his individual activities are an important part of a team effort that helps the marketing campaign succeed.

3. Hire the right people

There’s no way around it—if you don’t hire the right people, it’s going to be difficult to get the right results. Who are the right people? Employees at every level who are willing to align themselves with the organization’s goals and mission.

It takes everyone to achieve organizational accountability. It’s not just leadership’s responsibility. All employees, from top to bottom, must do their part in working toward company goals. Every job matters and every employee adds to the greater good of the company.

While this is true, you will still need to identify key stakeholders who can help influence the entire company’s culture of accountability.

For activities requiring resources across the company, it helps to appoint “process champions” who are responsible for achieving results but may not have authority over necessary resources.

Both the influencers and the process champions serve important roles in creating accountability.

It’s important to understands that accountability belongs to everyone. When the company succeeds, businesses recognize and reward employees who followed guidelines, acted appropriately, and met or exceeded expectations. This underscores the need to work with the right people at every level.

Employee reviews organizational accountability plan.

4. Communicate with transparency

When you’ve set clear expectations and defined goal-focused accountability with the right people in place, what comes next? Following a solid plan for thorough and transparent communication.

Transparent communication is about more than being open and honest with employees. It means establishing communication standards, norms, and expectations. It means creating a safe space for honest dialogue, providing consistent and constant communication, and proactively seeking feedback.

Effective communication involves leveraging technology, mastering meetings, and taking control of mobile comms and cloud-based collaboration. It means keeping remote employees in the loop, making internal documents easily accessible, and breaking down communication silos.

When done right, transparent communication gives you the freedom to hold employees accountable to organizational expectations. And yes, it can be a complex process, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Document management tools like PowerDMS can help you communicate effectively, providing a platform for storing, updating, tracking, and distributing important documents to your workforce.

How does it work? PowerDMS lets you distribute new and updated documents to relevant groups. Once distributed, you can track who has viewed and E-signed each document. And to save you time, the platform sends automatic reminders to employees who have pending documents in their PowerDMS inbox. Learn how this feature, and more, can help your organization today.

5. Hold yourself accountable

Guess what? Accountability in the workplace starts with you.

When you create your own path for personal accountability, you demonstrate integrity, discipline, and respect. All traits of a great leader.

When you proactively approach employees to discuss their performance in a positive manner, it builds credibility with them.

When you go to bat for employees to help them get their jobs done, it builds trust and loyalty.

When you share the progress, challenges, and solutions of your own tasks, you model accountability and transparency for your team.

Your actions are the gold standard for accountability in the workplace. Employees will notice if you’re walking the walk. And if you are, it will inspire them to do the same. It all starts with you.

What are you waiting for?

Many organizations fail to create a culture of accountability for one of two reasons.

  1. They don’t know how to get started
  2. They keep putting it off in lieu of more important initiatives

While this article is not comprehensive, the five steps outlined here will help you get started, which means it’s a matter of priority. Creating a healthy culture of accountability isn’t easy or quick, but over time it impacts employee satisfaction, retention, operational efficiency, regulatory compliance, and ultimately your bottom line.

It’s time to dismantle the negative connotations associated with accountability. Start taking a positive, empowering approach rather than a negative, punitive one. And remember, it all starts with you.

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