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Tech and Innovation

3 Ways to Help Your Employees Become More Accountable

Rhett Power

Every organization wants a culture of accountability, but employees can’t take proper ownership if they don’t know the expectations. And most employees report that their bosses aren’t clearly outlining what the organization’s trying to achieve. To rectify the disconnect, try these three strategies for making accountability the norm. 

Imagine that everyone at your company took accountability for their actions: No one would point fingers; everyone would admit mistakes. It’s not an impossible dream, but it won’t just happen spontaneously.

Statistically speaking, most organizations aren’t operating within a culture of accountability. In fact, research suggests that one-quarter of all supervisors feel that up to 20% of their employees shy away from holding themselves accountable.

Let’s not put all the blame on the workers, though. Respondents to a Partners In Leadership survey said only 15% of their bosses clearly defined and communicated what the business aimed to achieve. Without clear goals, employees tend to opt out of accepting responsibility. After all, how were they supposed to know what to strive for if leadership has abdicated the responsibility of outlining their objectives? The end result is a culture where feedback and goals are shared only after tasks go sideways, and we all know moving goalposts are poor motivators.

So how can you fix this type of disconnect and make accountability the norm and not the exception? Try to implement a few techniques.

  1. Define what accountability means.
    It can be difficult for anyone at your company to act with accountability if they don’t know what accountability looks like. During the early years of Apple, Steve Jobs solved this problem quickly. Jobs’ solution? Name the directly responsible individuals, or DRIs, for each action item. Every DRI knew that the buck essentially stopped at their feet. There was no getting around the accountability. It was just present, all the time.

    You don’t have to replicate Jobs’ DRI methodology. However, you should make sure that people understand what they’re accountable for and what it means to be accountable. Be sure that you’re empowering everyone to be owners, too. Remember: Accountability without ownership is meaningless.

    In other words, if you’re accountable for a duty but have no authority to make changes, you can’t really be held responsible. On the other hand, if you have been given ownership — even within parameters — you have less opportunity to deflect accountability and may even feel more open to taking responsibility because of the trust ownership conveys.

  2. Track accountability humanely.
    After defining accountability, you’ll want to make sure it’s actually happening at your organization, and you’ll want to track how often. Put measurements in place, but beware of choosing metrics that end up demotivating people. Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at leadership development consultancy Navalent, recommends avoiding any kind of numbering system, such as having managers “grade” their employees on accountability. As he notes, “A recent neuroscientific study revealed that we respond to being categorically rated with a sense of being threatened — we literally feel unsafe when someone puts us in a box in this way.”

    What types of monitoring won’t backfire? Jennifer Sun, CEO of regulatory software provider StarCompliance, suggests investing in technological solutions that monitor worker behaviors. “Leverage analytics to reinforce the firm’s culture and gauge how employees are complying with and living a firm’s culture,” Sun says. “By monitoring employee behavior (e.g., gifts and entertainment, political contributions, or employee investing), firms can identify if employees don’t understand company policies and assess whether additional training is required or whether there are actual culture issues that need to be addressed.”

    A good way to determine what employee behaviors to track is to work backward. Think about the outcomes you would expect to see if your team members were more accountable. For example, perhaps you would have fewer missed deadlines — all you would have to do is track your deadlines to see if the needle was moving. Again, aim to focus on fairness and remedies if people are having trouble embracing accountability. Punishment only works in the short term.

  3. Celebrate accountability improvements.
    You shouldn’t make your desire to encourage organizationwide accountability a secret. Therefore, be sure to celebrate accountability improvements when you see them. Public affirmation can be a positive “carrot” for employees to continue pursuing their accountability goals. Financial bonuses and appealing awards can be, too.

    You may even want to make accountability one of the desired traits for promotions to another level, such as from employee to supervisor. That way, your team members will see how taking responsibility can be part of their individual career goals.

    Don’t forget to reward your teams for showcasing exceptional accountability as well. During one interview, thought leader and author Simon Sinek emphasized that accountability works best when people feel accountable to one another. “The whole point of having other people invested in whatever work you’re doing means you’re more likely to do it — not because of you, but because you don’t want to let them down,” he explained. Consequently, be sure that you cheer for accountability in both individuals and groups.

No matter how you want to change your corporate culture, you can’t expect everything to happen overnight. With some planning, though, you can begin to chip away at any resistance to accountability in your organization. As a final reminder, be sure to look in the mirror first. One of the wisest ways to get the accountability you seek is to model it yourself.

Written by Rhett Power.
Have you read?
Precision Technology: Uncovering the New Frontier of Data/Analytics by Don Ward.
How to Create Digitally Literate Employees in a World of Expanding Automation by Rick Cruz.
Any Plan That Fits Into Your Business is Already Too Small by Leanne Hughes.
3 Moves to Ensure You Have a Healthy Work Culture by Mallory Meyer.

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Rhett Power
Rhett Power is responsible for helping corporate leadership take the actions needed to drive impact and courage in their teams that will improve organizational performance. He is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful (McGraw-Hill Education) and co-founder of Wild Creations, an award-winning start-up toy company. After a successful exit from the toy company, Rhett was named the best Small Business Coach in the United States. In 2019 he joined the prestigious Marshall Goldsmith's 100 Coaches and was named the #1 Thought Leader on Entrepreneurship by Thinkers360. He is a Fellow at The Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. He travels the globe speaking about entrepreneurship and management alongside the likes of former Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and AOL Founder Steve Case. Rhett Power is an acclaimed author, leader, entrepreneur and an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.