Organizational accountability meeting between colleagues.
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February 14, 2019
    Article highlights
  • What organizational accountability is and isn't.
  • Why we cringe when thinking about accountability.
  • How to build organizational accountability.

For a company to thrive and prosper, it must create a healthy culture of organizational accountability.

Why is this so important?

When businesses work hard to develop a mindset of accountability, it empowers employees at both the individual and team level to be more productive and collaborative, helping them to more effectively contribute to the company’s overarching goals.

Ensuring accountability in the workplace allows employees to take ownership of their work and build trust between team members at all levels of the organization. When done correctly, fostering a culture of accountability in the workplace helps yield a high-performing organization.

But the reality is it’s difficult to achieve corporate accountability because there are some negative connotations and resistance to formal accountability programs.

It’s a delicate balance.

You must weigh the needs of legal, regulatory, financial, and other accountability measures against the needs of employees to be able to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

The entire accountability process can feel unwieldy, frustrating, and unattainable; yet organizations need accountability to succeed.

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A recent workplace accountability study by Partners in Leadership indicates a whopping 82% of respondents said they have “limited to no” ability to hold others accountable successfully. Conversely, 91% of respondents rank accountability as one of their company’s top development needs.

While creating a culture of accountability can be complex, it’s certainly achievable.

The key is to take a positive, empowering approach rather than a negative, punitive one – and to lead by example throughout the process.

What Organizational Accountability Is and Isn't

Organizational accountability means clearly defining the company’s mission, values, and goals, and everyone’s role in working toward them.

It means holding employees and executives responsible for accomplishing these goals, completing assignments, and making decisions to deliver on these expectations.

Here’s what organizational accountability isn’t – a set of strict rules that must never be broken and that are administered with a punitive mindset.

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.

Why We Cringe When Thinking About Accountability

Think back to when you were a child and your parents gave you a directive that made no sense to you.

When you questioned them on it and asked “why,” they sometimes gave no reason other than “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 and to resist when being told what to do 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 a bigger puzzle, there’s less resistance since employees understand the “why” and see how it fits into the bigger picture.

Employees discuss how to build organizational accountability in their workplace.

How to Build Organizational Accountability

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 expectation setting

The foundation of organizational accountability is built on 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 critical.

Another key element? Developing clear policies and procedures.

They may seem stale and boring, but when people know what they are supposed to do and have a clear set of guidelines to follow, they are more likely to do what is right.

They want to know how to proceed in the right way instead of playing a guessing game.

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

A policy management software like PowerDMS can help how you manage, track, and give access to your most important documents.

2. Goal-focused accountability

One of the greatest challenges – but 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 this is to see. But conversely, the further away, the harder it can be to make those connections.

This plays a critical role in developing a culture of organizational accountability.

If employees not only understand the bigger picture but also see how their work helps achieve the company goals, the better their performance will be.

If you can tie the accountability to larger goals, not individual activities, the more effective accountability in the workplace will be.

That’s why it’s so important to talk one-on-one with your employees and let them know how their work is a key piece of the puzzle that fits into the company’s or project’s larger goals.

This is where you’d set individual, specific, measurable goals with each member of your team, providing clear direction and expectations.

Help employees see how their individual contributions directly impact the larger goal. When team members understand this, they take on self-accountability.

A simple analogy would be to think of a soccer team, where every player is important – not just the goalie or the striker. If one player is not doing her job, then the whole team suffers.

The same is true in business.

For example, say you’re working on a marketing campaign. Creative comes up with concepts, your strategist determines the best channels and timing for the campaign, your writer crafts the copy, and your designer works on 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. 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.

You need to have employees who are willing and able to align themselves with the company’s goals and mission. This involves two sides of the accountability coin.

First, 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 the company’s goals. Every job matters and every employee adds to the greater good of the company.

While it does take everyone, you’ll need to identify or align key players who can help influence the entire company’s culture of accountability.

In addition, for activities that might be dispersed 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.

Second, accountability also 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. Communication

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

This involves more than just being open and honest with employees. Effective communication in the workplace is a complex process.

This means establishing communication standards, norms, and expectations; creating a safe space for honest dialogue; providing consistent and constant communication; and proactively seeking feedback.

It means effectively leveraging technology; mastering meetings; getting control of mobile communications and cloud-based collaboration. Plus, it means keeping remote employees in the loop, making internal documents easily accessible, and breaking down communication silos.

When done right, effective workplace communication gives you the freedom to hold employees accountable to the expectations you set.

5. Hold yourself accountable

Guess what? Organizational accountability all 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, you build credibility.

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

When you share the headway you’re making toward your own responsibilities, you model accountability for employees.

They notice if you’re walking the talk. They look to you to see how you react and respond to what’s going on in the workplace.

Putting in that personal effort required for self-accountability sets the gold standard for employees to emulate and inspires them to do the same. It all starts with you.

While no easy feat, creating a culture of accountability in the workplace plays a critical role in developing a high-performing organization.

Dismiss those limiting fears rooted in negative connotations and employee resistance. Help shape a healthy culture of organizational accountability by taking a positive, empowering approach. And remember, it all starts with you.

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