Promoting Accountability in the Workplace

What is accountability - accountability in leadership -

I used to wonder why promoting accountability in the workplace fail – until I paid attention to the way my colleagues were talking tough and demanding quick answers from their team members.

In my colleagues’ thinking, talking tough was the most effective way to hold people accountable. But they were threatening and blaming their staff to provoke-guilt.  And that is because they did not know how to keep people responsible.

Managers like talking tough when things go wrong at work.  We do it even in situations where we are guilty of creating an environment that causes the wrongdoing.  And then we choose to appear tough by saying things like “kicking people’s backside” – something which we very rarely do by the way.  

It becomes a problem when we keep threatening again and again without taking any action.  The time comes when our people start to take that tough-talking as just a rhetorical threat. So, using strong words and threatening are by no means effective in promoting accountability in the workplace.

Holding Employees Accountable for Their Actions

You might already come across managers who demand accountability by acting tough.  You probably noticed how they criticized the employee of wrongdoing without taking time to understand the reason for doing the wrong things.

Some managers do not first check to know if the individuals concerned are competent to complete tasks. Just a simple fact-finding conversation without blame enhancing questions can highlight valid reasons – before barraging individuals with accountability demands.

They demand accountability because they feel entitled to hold people accountable.
There’s a common perception in the workplace that accountability is a negative thing. That can be true because I have never seen anyone in the workplace being held accountable for something that has gone right. 

When we say that our staff must be held accountable for their inactions.  What that means, the employees must take the blame and therefore get punished for their lack of actions.  So, with that, I can’t argue against those who think that accountability in the workplace is just a blame trail.   

Who is accountable and who is responsible can be opaque

Also, many managers use the words responsibility and accountability as if they are interchangeable. Both are important, but for me, employee accountability in the workplace means nothing more than someone taking full control of all the twists and turns of the job. In other words, it is about someone taking full ownership of the situation and be responsible for the results, whether good or bad.

Read also: Managing Difficult Employees and Disruptive Behaviors

If people don’t have full ownership of what they do but held accountable only when things go wrong, then that says much about the type of their managers.

As a manager, you should hold yourself accountable for such things not to happen in your workplace. Success and failure are both a team effort. You can’t take credit for one and then blame a team member or the team for the other.

I also think it’s scandalous for managers to assign responsibilities to team members without checking whether they are qualified. It is tough to find managers who can honestly tell you what the job descriptions of the people they manage say.

Related: 11 Simple Proven Ways of Motivating Employees at Workplace

Most managers never saw their employees’ job descriptions – yet, they ridiculously assign responsibilities and hold people accountable based on what they don’t know. The only time they dig out a job description is when there’s a need to assign the blame – to dish out punishment to the offender.   

The process of making people accountable requires us to confirm that their job descriptions match what they do. If not, then we have to provide training that matches what they do. Too often we push them to do jobs without any training, and later we demand accountability for the outcome.

We make assumptions that they can learn on the job – but mostly, these assumptions only lead to disappointments or failures.

Creating and Promoting Accountability in the Workplace

Before employees become accountable, they need to understand why their work is so important.  It requires the manager to communicate candidly with the team about the significance of an individual’s job and what the expectations are.  Employees must participate in the two-way communication to ensure there no surprises at the end.

Promoting accountability in the workplace contains two things; the “purpose” of doing this, and the “impact” of doing this. So, it is essential my staff understand these things and then own them. If people don’t understand the “purpose of doing the job and the impact of not doing the job,” they can’t be accountable.

Read Also: Why Team Building Activities are Waste of Time

Another issue I consistently observe in the workplace is the way we delegate our responsibilities, and then make it harder for the people to do the job successfully. It’s meaningless when managers delegate duties or tasks to the staff without relevant decision-making power. So, holding employees accountable for the results in this manner can’t be justified. 

Increasing Accountability in the Workplace

If you want your employees to be more accountable, ask them to define their commitments clearly. You cannot dictate the responsibilities to them. It needs to come from them and must be deeply rooted in the individuals who directly do the work.

Your role as a manager is to develop (with them if possible) plans, set the goals, show the direction and critical areas of focus. Then invite them to take accountability of what they’re capable of delivering. 
Test their commitments to ensure that everyone understands what needs to be done and provide everything they need to deliver.

How to improve commitment and accountability in the workplace? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below 

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