Retention and productivity are key issues for employers right now. And the magic charm for ensuring your people are engaged, innovative and productive is accountability.

Currently, business owners are focused on retaining key employees and ensuring everyone in the business is doing what they need to be doing. It’s all about retention and productivity. This isn’t surprising, given the shifts in the economic landscape over the past 12 months.

So how do you achieve these twin objectives? Goal setting is one piece of the puzzle, as I discussed in How to Set Effective Goals for 2024 and Mastering Personal Goal Setting. But you also need to create a culture that embraces accountability.

Accountability ensures that what you want to get done gets done. And if it doesn’t, it helps you understand why, so you can make the right adjustments or start managing an employee’s performance. And there are other good reasons to embrace accountability too.

In this post, I’ll describe why accountability is important, common obstacles to creating a culture of accountability and how to embed accountability within your business. 

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Why is Accountability Important?

Of course we want people to be doing what we think they’re doing, but the benefits of accountability go beyond that. 

Enhances Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty

Accountability increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. When everybody understands their role and they’re accountable for it, they’re more likely to exceed customer expectations. 

When everybody understands their role and they’re accountable for it, they’re more likely to exceed customer expectations. ‘

Improves team performance and efficiency 

If you’ve ever worked alongside somebody who’s not pulling their weight, and there doesn’t seem to be any repercussions, you will know that it’s very demotivating. In accountable teams, everyone knows their responsibilities and the standards they need to meet. This does a few things:

  • it reduces the overlap between roles. 
  • it reduces gaps
  • It encourages respect among coworkers because everyone knows their patch.

Don’t discount that last point. Whenever we do employee engagement surveys, a common theme emerges across many different organisations: people really want to work with people they like and respect. 

Fosters a Positive Workplace Culture

Accountability promotes transparency, trust and mutual respect. If people can see that everyone in the workplace is accountable, it has a hugely positive effect on workplace culture. People are clear on what they need to do, and how to get it done, and they see their coworkers taking responsibility as well. This impacts on overall business success – because it’s highly motivational and supports a positive culture.

If people can see that everyone in the workplace is accountable, it has a hugely positive effect on workplace culture. ‘

Supports Innovation and Continuous Improvement

If people are accountable for what they’re doing, they’re also more likely to take initiative. They’re going to think creatively about solving problems. This kind of environment enables everyone to start thinking about new ideas and improvements that they can make. 

It’s really important, particularly as technology keeps transforming business, to encourage your team to innovate – and accountability is tied to that. 

Enhances Decision-Making and Problem-Solving

If you have accountability as a cornerstone of your business, it means decisions are made more transparently, so they’re more effective. Why? Because people who are accountable for their areas of responsibility are more likely to thoroughly evaluate the decisions they need to make. They will collect data, seek feedback from others and collaborate with team members to ensure they make informed decisions. Naturally this leads to better decision-making.

Builds Trust with Stakeholders

Accountability builds trust – not just with team members, but also with your stakeholders. If you‘re doing what you said you would do, your board, customers and suppliers will have much more trust in you. Not a lot of downsides there.

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Obstacles to Accountability

In our engagement surveys, we ask the question: are people held accountable for poor performance in this organisation? We ask on a five-point scale (strongly disagree to strongly agree). We always get a lot of neutral responses, and neutral is okay. It just means ‘I’m not really sure’; not everyone is across performance management processes.

The responses we look at closely are the ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ responses. When these come up, we know that we have an issue with accountability in the organisation. It goes back to the idea I mentioned earlier – if you’ve ever worked alongside someone who’s not pulling their weight, you’ll know it’s really frustrating. So what are the obstacles to creating and enabling accountability in an organisation?  

‘If you’ve ever worked alongside someone who’s not pulling their weight, you’ll know it’s really frustrating.’

Lack of Clarity in Roles and Responsibilities

We all know that position descriptions can be really wordy, lengthy, boring documents – and if that describes yours, I encourage you to revise them. 

The most important thing to remember is that your position descriptions (or whatever you call them in your organisation) need to outline the key responsibilities for the role. And these should be really, really clear.

I spoke about this in detail in my post How to Clarify Roles in the Workplace and my podcast episode 18

Lack of Transparency in Workplace Culture

If employees don’t understand the bigger picture of the organisation, for example if meetings are happening behind closed doors and there’s a culture of speculation and mistrust, it can really discourage accountability. If I don’t understand what’s going on and I don’t know how my work contributes to the company, I’m less likely to take accountability for it.

Inadequate Feedback Mechanisms

It’s critical to establish processes to give people regular feedback about their performance. If an employee is not aware of things they need to improve, or if they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing and no one is giving them feedback about it, they’ll never know what they need to improve. 

Conversely, if people are not given feedback or recognition for their successes, it can lead them to feel that there’s no point in going the extra mile, because no one notices. 

Fear of Repercussions

If I make a mistake, and I know I’m going to be blamed or there are going to be other repercussions, I’m less likely to take responsibility for my actions. This is where you can look into psychological safety processes and practices for the workplace, so people feel supported to bring up mistakes and take responsibility for them.

Insufficient Training and Development

If you’re not giving people the right tools, resources and knowledge to fulfil their responsibilities, it’s very difficult for them to be accountable. You need a process to identify gaps in the skills and knowledge of your team, and ensure that you can offer training to fill the gaps.

Lack of Accountability in Leadership 

This is probably the most important obstacle to accountability. It’s a terrible saying, but all too often true: the fish rots from the head. If leaders at the top of the organisation aren’t holding themselves accountable, no one else in the organisation is going to either.

Leaders need to be really transparent about what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in the organisation, what their expectations of themselves personally are, and of the leadership team, and of the organisation as a whole. They must show they’re committed to the company goals and values as well. 

5 Top Tips for Embedding Accountability 

  1. Clear Expectations You must ensure every role is clearly defined and that people are supported, developed and trained to allow them to achieve in their roles.
  2. Regular Feedback I’m not talking about a yearly or a six-monthly performance review. We all need regular feedback. This may mean you need to train your managers, and possibly all your employees, on how to give and receive feedback. Practise it on a regular basis.
  3. Strong Position Descriptions Whatever you call your position descriptions, make sure they are very clear, up-to-date and super concise. They should be one page (at most two) simply outlining key responsibilities and KPIs. 
  4. Lead by Example Make sure all your leadership team members are on board and accountable for both their own work and for the work of the leadership team. They need to understand how to appropriately make sure that their staff members are held accountable as well. 
  5. Create a Culture of Safety If we say we’re going to increase accountability in an organisation, there’s always a danger that people may take that a little bit too far and we end up actually eroding trust. People can worry that if they don’t do the right thing they will be punished. There is a right balance there, and the way to achieve it is through embracing psychological safety, adopting a growth mindset, and developing your leaders so they understand what appropriate accountability looks like. 

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