If you are frustrated by a lack of accountability in your workplace, you are not alone. The real question is what you can do to improve it, as a manager, or even as a concerned team member. Accountability is all about taking responsibility for getting things done as expected, without excuses. Low accountability leads to mistrust, low morale, and toxic office culture.
Based on my own many years in the workplace, as a professional, manager, and executive, I believe most accountability issues stem from a lack of individual confidence in themselves or a lack of necessary skills. Thus there are some key things that we can do as a leader to improve people’s self-confidence and ability to deliver, as well as be a better example for others:
- Practice what you preach on accountability. First of all, you need to be a role model for accountability. That means full transparency and no excuses for issues and activities that are obviously in your domain. It also means recognizing, supporting, and rewarding someone who has assumed full responsibility, and not penalizing unexpected results.
For example, Starbucks’ chief executive officer, Kevin R. Johnson, was quick to accept accountability for a racial profiling incident a few years ago, rather than claim a field team member was at fault. He closed stores for a day to update employee racial-bias training.
- Effective communication of your expectations. Too many managers “assume” that team members know what you expect from them, and only go into detail when you fail. Always use multiple methods, including verbal and written, for defining an assignment, including accountability, with checkpoints and follow-up from you along the way.
- Provide assessments based wholly on facts. Accountability can easily become an emotional issue, complicated by politics and opinions. Make sure that metrics and goals are set upfront, and not modified as the project progresses. Feedback and assistance should always be provided along the way, rather than given as a surprise at the end.
Unfortunately, many business professionals and executives I know tend to make decisions and accountability assessments based on gut instinct. The result is a loss of trust by your team, increased volatility, and lower productivity by all members of the team.
- Delegate control commensurate with accountability. If you demand accountability but expect to make every decision, both of you will fail. Delegating control means having the right information, the right tools, and the right training to make the right decisions. Where multiple unpredictable levels of approval are required, no one can be accountable.
The answer is to empower your teams, but not micromanage. To optimize the delegation process, and still ensure accountability, Google has implemented a seven-step process that they believe optimizes ownership, motivation, and accountability in the ranks.
- Align accountability with organizational objectives. Unfortunately, I often see goal misalignments with teams, such as marketing measured on sales volume, or sales measured on customer retention. If key metrics and expectations rely on results from another group, then you have a conflict that prevents accountability from either group.
It’s also important to seek alignment of your personal goals with your work. Doing so will increase both your personal life accountability, as well as your business satisfaction. In similar fashion, you should also regularly check your goal alignment with your manager.
- Be an advocate and promoter for team members. Team members who are willing to assume responsibility need to feel your support and assistance up and down the line. This will generate trust, loyalty, and continued accountability within the organization. They need advocates to support their position or request additional training and expertise.
- Provide a safe haven for difficult issue discussion. The goal should always be coaching to solve problems, not blame assignment or negative feedback. In many cases, you and they both need an unbiased third-party perspective or someone who can bring in outside experts to confirm your findings and build your self-confidence.
Your objective is a team culture where people hold themselves accountable, rather than have a false accountability attempt forced on them. The result will be enhanced productivity and agility in the face of today’s pace of change, leading to individual as well as business growth and success. Make accountability something that you are proud of, rather than driven by fear of repercussion.