Employee Accountability in Local Government

Employee accountability can have positive benefits for both your team and your city. Here are steps to improve accountability in your local government.

December 28, 2020

Accountability is the backbone of any organization’s success.

According to the U.S Office of Personnel Management, being accountable means “being held answerable for accomplishing a goal or assignment.” Without accountability, there are no standards for performance, compliance, or ethical behavior in the workplace.

Given its public nature, accountability in local government is especially important.

What does accountability mean in government?

Understanding the importance of accountability in local government starts with understanding to whom you are accountable. As a public servant, you are accountable to local, state, and federal guidelines. But on a day-to-day basis, you answer to the citizens you serve.

You are responsible for using your resources for meeting the needs of your community to the best of your ability. Only with accountability in the workplace will you be able to accomplish this.

Importance of Employee Accountability

Why is accountability important?

Accountability in local government can have a number of positive benefits for both your team and the municipality you serve. Most obvious is the benefit of improved employee performance. When your employees know you will hold them accountable for their actions on the job, they will be more likely to adhere to a standard of excellence.

Knowing there are actual consequences for poor performance and behavior means your employees have a reason to do their best every day.

But accountability isn’t just about avoiding negative consequences. If you hold your employees accountable for their performance, it’s also important to recognize their efforts.

Of course, positive reinforcement boosts morale, which can be motivating for everyone. But recognizing employees’ success will also increase their confidence.

When employees feel competent in their roles, they may be more creative or innovative in how they do their jobs. They may also be more likely to come to you with problems or concerns. This means you can work to continually improve your operations.

As you can guess, the benefits of employee accountability in local government don’t end when the workday does. By holding your employees accountable, you are advocating for a better local government.

At the end of the day, expecting and enforcing a high standard for performance and behavior builds trust in your community. Local governments can’t fulfill their responsibility if citizens don’t trust them to make good decisions for the community.

Consequences of Poor Employee Accountability

Letting behavior and performance go unchecked can yield negative results for both your employees and those they serve.

Think of it this way: Accountability in local government isn’t just about rules and regulations. It’s about ensuring your employees can and will do their jobs well.

If you don’t consistently hold them accountable, your employees won’t take your policies seriously. Confusion about or lack of respect for expectations will ultimately compromise performance and decrease trust in your workplace.

Of course, this will lead to a chaotic, frustrating work environment. It can also lead to liability issues in the future. If you didn’t enforce a policy with one employee, another employee might be unclear about the expectation for them to follow the proper procedure.

But more importantly, poor employee accountability can negatively affect your relationship with the citizens you serve.

The public expects and deserves transparency in local government. Unethical practices or lack of attention to policies can have dire consequences for your municipality, ultimately breaching public trust.

Keep in mind that even the appearance of corruption can affect how your community sees you. For all these reasons, it’s crucial to take employee accountability seriously.

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Tools for Improving Employee Accountability

Improving accountability in your local government is a key step to serving your community well. But getting there doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you want to know how to hold employees accountable, start with these tools.

1. New employee on boarding

Ensuring employee accountability in local government means starting off on the right foot. Unfortunately, having employees sign the back of the policy handbook on their first day simply isn’t enough to ensure compliance.

From day one, you will want to make your expectations and policies crystal clear with an onboarding process.

Only when your employees fully understand what you expect can they deliver on a day-to-day basis. A cohesive onboarding and training strategy ensures your employees will not just sign off on handbooks, but read and comprehend them.

Along similar lines, your employees will take your policies much more seriously if you demonstrate from the get-go that you do, too.

More than just outlining your policies and procedures, onboarding can help your team understand the “why” behind them. Seeing why your mission, vision, values, and policies are important to your municipality can help employees “own” their jobs, leading to better long-term performance.

Keep in mind that the right software can assist you in your training and signature tracking efforts. With a policy management software like PowerDMS to streamline training and track who has signed what, you can focus on doing your job well and empowering your employees to do the same.

2. Performance reviews and goal setting

Once your employees understand expectations, it’s time to measure whether or not they are meeting them.

Providing feedback on a regular basis through informal touch points or formal reviews is an important way to ensure accountability in your local government.

Going over areas for improvement gives employees a chance to recalibrate their efforts with expectation and sets the tone for better performance. If your team is missing the mark, take the time to set specific, measurable, and timely goals together.

Keep in mind that there are two sides to the coin. Creating an environment of accountability also means recognizing achievements. Though positive reinforcement seems like a no-brainer, it’s not as common as you would think.

In a survey of nearly 4,000 managers, the General Accounting Office found that 63% of managers said they were held accountable for the results of their programs.

Unfortunately, only 31% of these managers said employees received positive recognition for meeting goals. If you want to hold employees accountable for performance, you also need to recognize their efforts.

3. Ongoing training programs

Your policies are typically not a one-and-done effort. Since your policies evolve in accordance with government guidelines and shifts in culture, you will need to train your employees on an ongoing basis.

But even before you update your policies, take time to retrain your employees on existing ones. It can never hurt to get everyone on the same page about what you expect and why.

Of course, adhering to policies is a huge part of accountability. But to maintain trust between local government and constituents, you will also want to train on ethical issues in government. Since ethics are typically less “black and white” than policies, make sure you include scenario-based training as well.

The ability to customize your training is key to ensuring accountability. To really reinforce expectations, it’s important to directly reference portions of the policy in your training.

Training management software makes creating training courses easy and cuts both time and added costs out of the equation. You can also use this software to test employees on what you train, ensuring optimal opportunity for accountability and compliance.

4. Corporate culture

Remember, consistency is key when it comes to a culture of accountability. Leading by example is a great way to set the tone for compliance with policies and procedures.

By demonstrating that you take accountability seriously, you encourage your employees to do the same. Another way to strengthen your culture of accountability is to continually converse about the “why” behind all your policies and procedures. Make culture a topic of conversation, allowing employees to provide feedback for areas of improvement.

Where compliance is lacking, take steps to correct issues or attitudes that are out of line with your mission, vision, and values.

5. Monitoring compliance

Monitoring compliance is another major aspect of accountability in local government.

But beyond simply pointing out poor performance or lack of compliance, it’s important to demonstrate there are real consequences.

Lack of adherence to policies and procedures should consistently result in corrective action, even if an incident doesn’t arise.

In fact, the goal of consequences is to prevent incidents. If you don’t enforce your policies consistently, employees will be less likely to follow them.

When municipal governments don’t enforce their own standards consistently, they put themselves at risk for breaching public trust and entering into major liability issues.

6. Transparency and communication

As you know, transparency in local government is a big part of building trust between public officials and those whom they serve.

The same goes for transparency in the workplace. If you want to increase accountability, you will need to be upfront and open about expectations.

When you lay policies and procedures out clearly along with consequences, your develop a relationship of trust and respect with your employees.

If accountability means making expectations accessible as possible for everyone, you need to plan how you’ll communicate your policies.

Investing in a policy management software can streamline this process. From storing to revising and distributing policies and procedures, the right software can help you be as clear as possible about expectations at all times.

7. Policy and procedure manual

In the end, the majority of your expectations stem from your policies and procedures.

Creating a compliant, accountable environment begins with creating a clear, accessible policy and procedure manual.

More than a rule book, this guide will set the tone for accountability and excellence in your office. That’s why it’s so important to store, update, and distribute this document efficiently.

One major benefit of a document management software like PowerDMS is digital storage.

A single, electronic source with search capability makes finding what you need as simple as a Google search. When your policy documents are easy to locate and navigate, your employees will be prone to use them.

But a document management software does more than simply house documents. The ability to collaborate on documents with colleagues will save you time and confusion when you’re updating policies. And when it comes time to distribute policies you edit, employees can compare documents side by side.

The ability to see revisions can ensure that everyone is adhering to the most recent version of every policy.

While all these tools can come in handy as you develop systems for ensuring compliance, remember what accountability is all about.

Accountability comes back to performing well so you can serve well. Maintaining a culture of accountability can improve performance in your organization, ultimately building trust with your constituents.

Though getting there is an investment, nothing is more valuable than doing all you can to serve your community.

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