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May 17, 2018
    Article highlights
  • Why accountability is important.
  • Where workplace accountability matters most.

Every organization must have systems of accountability in place to operate.

Simply put, accountability in the workplace means holding employees and executives responsible for accomplishing goals, completing assignments, and making decisions.

Creating a culture of accountability helps ensure that employees show up for shifts, understand what’s expected of them, and meet deadlines.

Accountability structures hold everyone in the organization responsible for their fulfilling their duties. Workplace accountability should include repercussions for wrongdoing and poor performance. But accountability isn’t just about punishment and negative consequences.

A healthy culture of accountability will help employees be more productive, creative, and able to contribute to furthering organizational goals. It will allow employees to take ownership of their work and build trust between team members at all levels of the organization.

Workplace accountability doesn’t happen by default. In fact, in a Workplace Accountability Study by Partners in Leadership, 82 percent of respondents said they had no ability to hold others accountable.

Respondents weren’t satisfied with this – 91 percent said they would rank accountability as one of their organization’s top development needs.

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Why Accountability Is Important

Without a system of accountability in place, operations can quickly devolve into chaos. The organization can flounder in daily activities, never able to make tangible progress toward larger goals.

Employees can’t meet expectations if the expectations are unclear or nonexistent.

Without accountability in the workplace, bad employees can get away with cutting corners. Good employees go unrecognized and quickly get discouraged and lose motivation to work hard.

On the other hand, with a healthy culture of accountability, organizations can grow and accomplish goals. Leaders and employees can learn from mistakes and know they will be recognized for good work and held responsible for wrongdoings.

Accountability in the workplace can improve an organization’s reputation, but it’s not just about avoiding bad press. Creating a culture of accountability can result in many positive outcomes:

Accountability improves employee morale

Organizations that create a culture of accountability recognize and reward hard work.

This helps every employee feel valued. And, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey, workers are more motivated to work hard when they feel valued.

Ninety-five percent of respondents who said they feel valued by their employer said they felt motivated to do their best. Only 32 percent of those who didn’t feel valued said the same.

A happy business woman.

Accountability also boosts employee morale by enhancing trust between team members.

Successful organizations recognize the importance of every staff member. If an employee at any level of the organization isn’t pulling their weight, the whole team suffers.

Without accountability measures in place, things can quickly devolve into finger-pointing excuses: “I missed the deadline because Tom was late sending me the numbers for that project.” “My supervisor told me to do it that way.”

A culture of accountability makes collaborations possible by emphasizing follow-through and responsibility.

Employees know they can count on co-workers to do their part. And everyone recognizes the importance of open communication and personal ownership. Every staff member knows that their work matters.

Accountability increases effectiveness

Partners in Leadership found that nine out of ten companies either didn’t have clearly defined goals or hadn’t communicated them broadly to employees. As a result, 75 percent of employees didn’t understand expectations and what their organization was trying to achieve.

Without accountability structures, productivity quickly slips. Projects take longer than they should because individual contributors don’t understand their roles or meet their deadlines.

As Roger Connors points out in an article on Chief Learning Officer,

“Without clarity, confusion can lead to poor execution and counterproductive behaviors. It licenses people to maintain the status quo and dismiss their accountability for results. It also kills momentum because no one is confident about which direction to move.”

On the other hand, a culture of accountability includes clearly communicated expectations and well-defined goals.

When employees know the expectations, they can work with confidence. They know the boundaries, but they also feel free to be creative and innovative.

When leaders outline defined goals, every team member can gauge their performance. And team members can work together to meet goals and make the organization successful.

Accountability protects against liability risks

Accountability and liability avoidance go hand in hand. Organizations that have a strong culture of accountability have clear policy and procedures, thorough training, and active supervision.

These are three of the fundamental layers of liability avoidance.

Fostering a culture of accountability is a proactive way to protect your organization against liability risks.

Accountability structures ensure that your organization is doing everything possible to make sure employees and leaders don’t abuse their position. If things do go wrong, having accountability measures in place can protect your organization and staff.

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Where Workplace Accountability Matters Most

Accountability is essential for organizations in every industry. However, it’s especially important for governmental and public safety organizations.

In public safety, the stakes are incredibly high.

Employees make life-or-death decisions on a daily basis. It’s incredibly important for every employee to be accountable for their actions. But they also need to be confident that they won’t be blamed for mistakes that weren’t their fault.

This requires a culture of accountability throughout all levels of the organization.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about creating a culture of accountability in particular industries that need it the most:

Local government

Local governments are primarily accountable to the citizens in their community. In every level of government, elected and appointed officials are meant to represent the interests of their constituents.

Their decisions impact everyone in their community. Corruption or misconduct within local government – whether by elected officials or any government employee – is the ultimate betrayal of public trust.

Governments must have both internal and external accountability measures.

It’s paramount that government agencies have internal checks and balances and ethical guidelines in place to hold employees accountable.

However, a culture of accountability in government extends beyond those internal structures. Citizens need to know that they can trust their local government.

Therefore, governments need to stress transparency in all that they do. Transparency with financial information, legislation, and other public information allows taxpayers to hold governments accountable.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

Law enforcement

In the last few years, law enforcement officers have been under more scrutiny than ever.

With many people calling for increased police accountability, it’s more important than ever for law enforcement agencies to create and maintain a culture of accountability.

Civilians need to know that they can trust police officers to serve and protect them. Police accountability and transparency create a foundation for that trust.

Police accountability may include regular audits, clear disciplinary processes, and involving the community in policy-making processes. All of these things help prevent misconduct and improve police-community relations.

Fire

Like other public safety organizations, fire departments are accountable to the citizens they serve. That includes open communication and transparency with citizens.

Fire fighters working together in uniform.

Much of accountability in fire involves making sure firefighters follow the proper procedures. This is important to ensure the safety of both the firefighters themselves and the wider community.

On the scene of a fire or other critical incident, firefighters must work together. They need to know the location of every team member at all times and make sure every firefighter makes it out safely.

If firefighters neglect accountability, someone may get hurt or even killed. In fact, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health named a lack of accountability as one of the top five causes of death for firefighters.

Healthcare

Without accountability measures in place, healthcare organizations cannot operate efficiently. And more than that, if healthcare employees fail to follow proper policies and procedures, they can put patients at risk.

According to a study by the Journal of Patient Safety, each year, more than 210,000 hospital patients die from hospital-related infections or medical mistakes.

A culture of accountability can help prevent such mistakes.

Accountability measures contribute to ensuring that healthcare organizations allow adequate access to services, responsibly handle patient information and finances, and abide by legal and ethical standards.

Overall, accountability in healthcare allows organizations to operate efficiently, provide quality care, and avoid costly liability risks.

Accountability in the workplace is incredibly important for organizations in every industry. A culture of accountability helps organizations operate effectively, protect against liability risks, and achieve goals.

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