3 Ways to Develop a Culture of Accountability

If you’re a business owner, you know the feeling of balancing the world on your plate. Your main priority is to make your business succeed, and your hope is that you build out a high-performing team that delivers success. You may have hired the most qualified employees, but how are you ensuring that they deliver?

You might want to consider assessing your internal culture of accountability.  From a financial perspective, accountability directly corresponds to accuracy and trust within a team. This holds true for the rest of the business. As a leader, you have a direct responsibility to develop and maintain this culture.

Oftentimes, the term “accountability” has a negative connotation in the workplace. Employees might associate the word with punishment, slave driver-type management, or tattling. However, at its core, accountability is a way of uniting employees to achieve the performance goals of the team (and ultimately, the company).

Why is Accountability so important?

To illustrate the importance of accountability, it might help to look at a few examples:

Picture this scenario.

An accountant in a medium-sized SaaS company has a clear understanding of her role, which is to provide accurate books and month-end closures. The accountant reports directly to the controller and plans ahead to prepare correct reports. She double-checks numbers well in advance. The controller follows up regularly for timely reports. Both feel united in purpose and efforts. The team works like a well-oiled machine, and trust abounds.

Now let’s look at another case.

A recruiting team at a large retail company has a deadline coming up to hire five new marketing employees. The CEO of the company has not consistently implemented or defined the company values and guidelines; therefore, many of the recruiting team members struggle with complying to guidelines and regulations. The lack of clarity causes a rift between co-workers, and employees vocally express their job frustrations. It’s an “every man for himself” mindset. The recruiting team is barely meeting goals.

We notice a stark contrast between the dynamics of these two teams. Where the finance team feels united and confident, the recruiting team feels frustrated and unmotivated. Imagine the difference in performance and bottom line for these two teams.

Let’s circle back to the question of why accountability is so vital. The simple answer is that accountability facilitates trust, productivity, and achievement of company goals. Employees may have different ideas of what great performance looks like, or what they are responsible for. Leaders are responsible for setting expectations, communicating with their team, and assessing performance. Taking certain actions can be the impetus for implementing a solid culture of accountability.

1.  Set clear expectations and objectives.

In 2014, Partners In Leadership released a large-scale scientific study on accountability in the workplace, in which they examined more than 40,000 individuals in organizations over the course of three years.

A sizable 85% of participants stated that they weren’t sure of their organization’s objectives. This ambiguity ultimately trickles down to objectives on a team level. As a decision maker, it’s time for you to take ownership in setting organizational objectives. Start with your direct team, then make sure your objectives are cascaded down to each level of the organization.

SMART goals aren’t a bad place to start. Start with the organizational goals, and train your team on goal-setting and what it means to be accountable. Then do the work to engrain this in your company culture. It may seem like a giant undertaking to have to set these goals in addition to performing your other essential duties. However, understand that culture isn’t established overnight.

Don’t hold back asking for feedback when creating your objectives. Goal-setting can very much be a team effort and mutual agreement on where you want to add an element of personal investment with employees. Be specific in your goal measurement.

Additionally, make sure each employee knows their place in the company- in other words, make sure they have a clear understanding of their jobs and what work is expected of them. Job ambiguity majorly impacts frustration levels and job satisfaction in the workplace, especially for employees who feel unsure if they are doing too much or too little. Lay out clear and realistic expectations for each role, and help employees understand why these expectations are important.

2.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

What’s the purpose of setting goals if you don’t follow through with your team? A Gallup study found that 47% of employees reported getting feedback from management “a few times or less” in the past year. Imagine the increased motivation if employees received positive, encouraging feedback. In the same vein, if employees get feedback on poor performance, imagine their motivation to improve.

Good communication is vital in keeping your team motivated and aligned with goals. This includes providing and receiving feedback, setting up regular reporting, and scheduling check-ins. However, be careful not to confuse good communication and micromanagement. A level of trust must be present between you and your team to ensure that you give each other enough room to deliver.

Well-timed follow-ups can help you avoid making your team members feel as though you’re breathing down their necks. Check-ins can consist of simple questions like “how are you doing?” or “Any concerns with the team?”. These can elicit a short “everything’s great!” or open up a deeper conversation. Shared progress reports are a great way for everyone to view the team’s entire progress collectively and to encourage further team communication.

Team meetings should create opportunities to review goals and track progress, with each individual reporting their individual progress and contribution. Individual reports encourage self-accountability and keep finger-pointing in check.

3.  Assess Engagement and Motivation.

At some point, all employees experience decreased levels of engagement or performance. Some employees will continue poor performance, even with a solid system of accountability. Don’t hold back on addressing poor performers as soon as you identify them. Their performance might have a significant impact on the rest of the team.

One-on-ones might be helpful for you to address the issue. Figure out why the employee is performing the way they are. Find the root of the problem, and then apply your leadership skills, remembering to utilize compassion. Assumptions can be the death of us, so don’t venture to make assumptions about employee situations. They may be going through circumstances beyond your knowledge. Start by asking questions about their performance. “You haven’t been reporting X and Y. How are you feeling about the project? What challenges are you experiencing?”

This is where you’ll apply the right leadership style to match the situation. Sometimes managers fear coming across as confrontational or fear that they will damage their social relationships with their colleagues. It’s natural to want people to like us and avoid any actions that may be perceived as aggressive. However, leaders should understand the potential long-term setbacks that result from holding back feedback.

As the aligner, you set the tone for shaping the entire culture of accountability in your business. Remember that accountability doesn’t mean slave driving. The entire purpose of having an accountability-focused work culture is to achieve and build the overall productivity and happiness of the company. Be diligent in your implementation. If done correctly, developing a culture of accountability has the potential to make a significant positive impact on your employees and on your bottom line.