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What Is Meant By A Culture Of Accountability And Why Is It Important?

The best kind of culture is a Culture of Accountability where people demonstrate high levels of ownership to think and act in the manner necessary to achieve organizational results.  The defining characteristic of this kind of culture is that people voluntarily assume their own accountability. Rather than having accountability forced upon them, they enthusiastically take it upon themselves. That’s right, they are neither commanded to be accountable nor kept under surveillance until “called to account” for their actions. In a Culture of Accountability, people at every level of the organization are personally committed to achieving key results targeted by the team or organization, and they never wait to be asked for a progress report or a follow-up plan. Instead, they report proactively and follow-up constantly, diligently measuring their own progress because they have internalized their commitment to achieving results. Their mantra—“What else can I do to achieve the desired results?”—leads them to continually find answers, develop solutions, overcome obstacles, and triumph over any trouble that might come along. And, as you would expect, everyone holds everyone accountable for results.

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.

Accountability increases effectiveness

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.

Definition of Accountability

Many people think of accountability in terms of what it isn’t – trying to “catch” employees doing something wrong, ratting out coworkers, or laying down a strict set of rules administered with a punitive approach.

Rather than creating a proactive atmosphere of responsibility, this negative approach drives a reactive culture of “management by rules.” But there’s a better way.

Accountability in the workplace is all about setting and holding people to a common expectation by clearly defining the company’s mission, values, and goals. Employee accountability means holding all levels of employees (from the part-time hourly worker to the C-suite executive) responsible for accomplishing business goals.

While accountability at work is critically important, it also needs to be balanced with the need to give employees autonomy in their roles. They must feel empowered to do their jobs so they can take ownership of their work and strive for excellence. Fostering this culture of employee accountability helps yield a high-performing organization.

The Positive Cycle of Accountability and Results

The most compelling case for accountability may be the simplest: high rates of individual and organizational accountability propel better top-line results.

Building a culture of accountability in the workplace requires clarity and alignment around desired results. Leadership teams should identify the top three to five Key Results that the organization must achieve in order to be considered successful. Key Results must be meaningful, memorable, and measurable, and communicated clearly and consistently to every employee within the organization through a top-down approach.

When employees have clear targets toward which to work, they are able to see the connection between their day-to-day tasks and the organization’s success. As such, they are inclined to take accountability for delivering on Key Results.

How to make accountability a core part of your culture and a core value of your team

The two biggest reasons that we resist holding others accountable are because we’re uncomfortable doing it and because we forget to do it. Here’s how to tackle these issues.

Lead by example and hold yourself accountable first

As a manager, you’re the pacesetter of tone, performance, and culture for your team. People will follow your lead. If you’re continuously showing up to meetings late, pushing deadlines, and not owning up to your mistakes, the team will follow suit.

So how do you demonstrate your own accountability in the workplace?

  • Complete tasks that have been assigned to you by the timeline you agreed on.
  • Be responsible for the success of your team and make the effort to support your team when needed.
  • When you schedule meetings, respect everyone else’s time by showing up prepared and on time (and expect that others do too).

Work on your feedback skills

Giving tough feedback isn’t easy, but you can get better at it. One of the most important things you do as a manager is to provide feedback. In fact, coming in third after fair pay and opportunities for advancement. So, even negative feedback is better than no feedback at all. When you regularly give feedback (including positive feedback), it makes tough feedback much easier to give and receive. It also reduces the chance of your direct report being surprised by the feedback they’re receiving, leading to further disengagement.

This is such an important topic, we’ve dedicated a whole post to giving good feedback to employees. At its heart, good feedback comes from a place of genuinely wanting to help someone grow. You need to “give a damn”. The second part of it is to be clear and direct. Feedback should not be ambiguous.

Recognize that procrastinating feedback only makes things worse

As uncomfortable as it is, when we procrastinate providing feedback, we only make matters worse. Issues very rarely resolve themselves and just turn into bigger issues. Eventually, you have to deal with it. It’s easier to deal with the issue as soon as possible for you, for the person you’re providing the feedback to and for the rest of the team. Remind yourself of this often.

Make accountability a habit

Setting up a reminder to give (and solicit) feedback as part of each meeting agenda will help ensure that feedback flows consistently. We believe one-on-ones and team meetings are great opportunities to build a habit around accountability.

Here are a few of the questions that managers using Soapbox add to their one-on-ones to make accountability a habit:

  • Is there anything we should START doing as a team?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?
  • Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback on your work? If not, where would you like more feedback?
  • Is there an aspect of your job where you would like more help or coaching?
  • How could we improve the ways our team works together?