Nine Ways to Supercharge Accountability in the Workplace
How important is it for managers to create an environment where employees are fully accountable? Experts routinely cite "workplace accountability" as one of the most vital components for corporate success. This concept is the foundation upon which financial success is built. Accountability in the workplace exists when employees understand what's expected of them, work hard to achieve it, and honestly take ownership of results.
In workplaces where long and short-term goals are unclear, where managers fail to communicate and where projects end with no feedback or wrap-up sessions, accountability in the workplace is often lacking. There are several common factors that usually lead to low accountability, including:
- Poor two-way communication between management and workers
- Blurry goals and undefined time parameters on projects
- Supervisors' reluctance to speak clearly with employees
- The lack of training and coaching sessions for under-performing workers
- An environment where weak performance has no consequences
It's worthwhile to note that accountability in the workplace is primarily the job of management and supervisory personnel. New hires and inexperienced employees have no choice but to rely on their superiors to set clear goals and define the ways for achieving those goals. When a project doesn't succeed, nine out of ten times the responsibility falls, at least partly, on faulty management directives.
That doesn't mean workers have no role in maintaining accountability in the workplace. Even in a hypothetical scenario of ideal supervisory directives, comprehensive training and clear feedback, some workers will seek to avoid accountability. What's a manager to do?
Nine Ways Managers Can Boost Accountability in the Workplace
Any person in a supervisory role can take action to promote accountability in the workplace. In a nutshell, the process is about setting clear goals, making sure workers have the skills to do the tasks at hand, understanding how to measure achievement and more. Here are detailed explanations of specific and effective ways for any team leader, corporate executive, or unit supervisor to bolster accountability in the workplace:
1. Be crystal clear about rewards and consequences:
Team members have the right to know what will happen if goals aren’t met. This concept applies to groups as well as individuals. Setting clear goals before a project begins lets everyone know what lies ahead. Likewise, being honest about consequences is part of the picture.
When a worker fully comprehends, for example, “If I miss my personal goal on this six-month project, I’ll have to work overtime to make up the shortfall during the holiday season,” then managers have communicated well. If that same worker approaches the project thinking, “If our team fails on this job, our manager will be angry,” then management has done a poor job of describing rewards and consequences.
2. Give feedback during and after every project:
Speech teachers have an old, reliable rule that applies well for managers who want to build an atmosphere of accountability: “Say what you’re going to talk about. Say it. Tell everyone what you just said.” With a few minor adaptations, any manager can put this rule into practice and enhance accountability.
Pre-project “feedback” might sound like a nonsense term, but it refers to an important tactic. Managers should describe an upcoming project in detail and speak with team members about the possible pitfalls and challenges. Let the team give you their thoughts about other possible obstacles and proposed ways to handle them.
Once the task begins, every manager should set specific times for feedback sessions. Depending on the task, that might mean daily, weekly or monthly meetings where everyone can reflect on and review progress milestones. After-project sessions are just as crucial. Only at the end can you assess the final success rate, review what went wrong, what went right, and how any shortfalls can be remedied. Of course, feedback sessions are of little value when managers foster an environment of fear and finger-pointing. See point number 5, “Communicate,” below.
3. Don’t ignore poor performance:
Nobody wants to be the “bad guy.” When poor performance is the subject of discussion, there are ways to address it without being viewed as a hard-nosed sheriff in a wayward town. Speaking directly and unemotionally about performance issues conveys an air of objectivity. Approach the topic with an attitude of trying to find, together with the employee, a remedy for the issue.
Phrases like, “How can we make sure this gets taken care of on the next project?” or “What do you think are the reasons you were unable to reach the goal?” are two non-confrontational, non-blaming ways to offer help to a worker who needs it. Allowing poor performance to continue without addressing it is a recipe for long-term failure.
4. Always conduct follow-up sessions:
It helps when large projects are broken into manageable pieces, either by time-periods or achievement milestones. That way, you as a manager can follow up with team members about their individual responsibilities. It’s preferable to catch a problem early on rather than try to correct it later. An effective follow-up session will both diagnose and prescribe, to use a common medical phrasing.
Successful managers use in-project follow-up meetings to gather everything they can about who’s doing what, what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and how adjustments can be made. This is one of the classic situations when “more information is good, and less is bad.” Every project has its own set of vital signs, and the follow-up session is the only way to measure them.
Clear, effective communication is the key to so many areas of corporate success, and establishing accountability is one of them. It’s essential to remember that communication does not simply refer to “telling a worker what to do.” Authentic communication means that you not only say what needs to be done but explain it clearly. Additionally, managers should let it be known that they’re open to input in the form of questions, suggestions, and comments from workers.
The old adage about communication being a two-way street has endured in our culture for a reason: it’s true. Directives and commands work in military boot camp but fall woefully short in the modern workplace. It helps to have a brief face-to-face meeting with team members as each new project begins.
During that session, you can spell out all the details about goals and individual roles. Then, take time to listen to pertinent questions and concerns from the people you just charged with the responsibility to actually do the job.
6. Train thoroughly:
An employee who doesn’t know what to do in a given situation is bound to underachieve. Whose responsibility is it to make sure new hires and inexperienced workers get the training they need? You, the manager, are fully responsible for that task.
Some companies have strict, written procedures for step-by-step employee training. Others have no formal process for this vital function. Wherever you work, and whoever works for you, make it a point to find out whether team members have the training and experience to handle the tasks you assign to them.
7. Don’t be a robot:
Managers need to demonstrate that they are not machines. Be willing to show your personal, human emotions on occasion, especially in after-hours socializing with other staff members and other team members. Effective managers earn the respect and understanding that everyone needs during a fulfilling career.
Socializing is not about going overboard and behaving unprofessionally. It’s about showing others that you know how to have a good time, enjoy yourself and maintain a well-rounded lifestyle.
8. Allow for Continuous Learning:
If management teams and company executives don't support continuous learning, then workers will inevitably run into problems. Times change and technology advances. It's imperative for every team member to have the opportunity to improve. In-house seminars, college courses, online learning and other chances to hone skills are ideal ways to keep the workforce ahead of the curve.
9. Manage Employee Time:
Many of the issues that permeate "accountability in the workplace" are related to time. When workers show up late or leave early, essential project components don't get the full attention they deserve. Out of the dozens of pieces of the accountability puzzle, time is the easiest one to measure and verify. ClockInEasy has multiple solutions for managers who want to be absolutely certain that every worked minute is recorded for every person on every job.
With the help of ClockInEasy's web and mobile apps, it's easy to collect data relating to overtime, payroll, paid-time-off, time sheets, and labor compliance, just to name a few. H. L. Mencken was right, time is "the great equalizer," because it interlaces every human activity. When it comes to accountability in the workplace, measuring and recording time accurately can be the difference between grand success and stunning failure.
Making Accountability Real
Effective managers know that achieving accountability in the workplace takes time, dedication and the willingness to communicate openly with team members at all stages of a project. The nine methods listed above will give you a starting point for building an accountable environment. Like any other core skills, they call for practice and patience. But the result means a workplace where everyone understands what must be done, makes a solid effort to succeed, and is willing to honestly review whatever the results may be.