Building a Culture of Employee Accountability

By CHARLIE KIMMEL on FEBRUARY 6, 2015

What’s Your Excuse?

Employees make excuses all the time. “It’s not my job.” “That’s not in my job description.” “Nobody told me to do that.” “I didn’t have the tools or resources to get that done.” “I thought it didn’t matter when it needed to be finished; I’m working on it. That’s what matters.” It may seem as though these employees are shirking their responsibilities or placing blame on others. Your first response may be to reprimand them.

But the correct response should be to step back and assess the root problem. If there is a pattern of employees making excuses, the problem is really a lack of leadership. It’s a lack of employee accountability. Likely, the managers or supervisors haven’t taken the time to define roles. They don’t assign ownership of tasks, hold employees accountable, or provide a way for employees to become accountable for daily tasks or assigned projects.

Holding employees accountable is a fundamental leadership skill. But when supervisors lack it, company costs increase exponentially. Projects get started but stall, sometimes to a standstill. Communication breaks down among employees and supervisors. People start pointing fingers at each other.

Organizations don’t want to suffer from bad or declining morale. But that’s what happens when your best employees realize they aren’t working for the high-functioning company they thought they were. When that realization takes place, talent starts walking.

But you can’t simply ask your supervisors to hold their employees accountable. They need a blueprint of how to set goals, how to celebrate successful completion of projects, and everything in between. These six steps are a great place to start building a culture of employee accountability in your company or organization.

Goals for Employee Accountability

Setting goals is an approach that will motivate your employees to achieve the results you want as well as results they can be proud of. Offer suggestions for different directions they can take. If there is something specific that needs to be accomplished, ask the person who you think would not only perform it the best, but also who would enjoy it the most.

Ask your employees if they can think of anything that could improve the company. Maybe something to streamline a certain process, raise employee morale, or anything else. Often, newer employees will have some of the best ideas because they see everything with fresh eyes. Ownership of their own workload helps employees want to do the work regardless of obstacles. A desire to do the work is the first step in employee accountability.

Communicate With Your Employees

It’s important to engage with your current employees as well as recruit new employees. Getting to know them as people. Learn their likes, dislikes, interests, and hobbies. This helps them to feel appreciated and respected as an individual and not just a number pushing a time clock.

Then, take it a step further and engage with them as they work towards reaching their goals. Ask them how it’s going. Ask them to share their progress. Don’t hover over every little detail, but be interested in it. Listen to what they have to say. Offer suggestions for improvement, if necessary, but don’t get upset if they choose to do it differently.

If a project must be done a certain way or they get something wrong, then say so. Otherwise, give them the freedom to flourish in their own creativity. Having someone to follow their progress creates the second step of employee accountability. Knowing that someone is going to check in on them will keep workers motivated and more inclined to make some headway.

Be Approachable

The key to ending the blame game is to empower employees to take risks. Let them know you are open to their ideas. If they feel strongly that something should be done a certain way, listen to them and find out why. This helps create trust in your relationship with employees. Avoid pointing out minor flaws in a current or completed project, unless it is inaccurate or necessary for continued success.

Should disagreements arise, avoid trying to prove a point for argument’s sake. Use “I feel…when you [acted]” statements. “I feel frustrated when you come in late. Others have to fill in for you and it is difficult to see customers when we are down a team mate.” This technique helps to eliminate feelings of blame and guilt. Don’t issue ultimatums. Ultimatums often come with unintended side effects. You might have a failed project, cause ill feelings to be harbored against you, or even lose a good worker.

If you or an employee feels overwhelmed, take a break. There are advantages to taking a moment to collect your thoughts. Taking a step back can help you or your employee see what’s wrong and accept ownership of your own actions.

Smart Management

What some managers don’t realize is that micromanaging can backfire. One way to develop employee accountability is to let employees be accountable to each other. A little positive peer pressure can do wonders for productivity. Clearly articulate expectations on a regular basis. Adequate communication can help everyone see the next goalpost in the bigger picture.

Set quarterly goals and track progress of both successes and failures. Give employees decision-making power like choosing names for teams or a certain event. But be sure there’s a reason behind it, not just something silly to do for the sake of giving them a false sense of ownership. Good managers give employees the power to make decisions and the freedom to make suggestions.

Give Feedback

Providing feedback is just as important as seeking feedback to reach a level of greater accountability. Accountable people seek feedback often from a wide variety of associates. It is impossible to create an accountable organization without asking for and receiving timely feedback. Seeing where you can improve is the first step. Knowing how to improve comes from asking for regular feedback.

Appropriate Rewards

Employee accountability needs to be recognized and rewarded. Projects that have been completed should be rewarded with recognition, more freedom, and more responsibility. Successes might merit the employee a free lunch, or maybe even a raise or promotion. However, regular rewards for being accountable should not become the incentive for being accountable.

The point is encourage integrity. You want people be accountable for their own actions and responsibilities because it is the right thing to do. You want employees to stay productive and propel the company to further growth. For example, if new computers would help the organization to serve clients better or foster a community of learning, then don’t spend reward money in the form of individual bonuses. Instead, reward the entire team with that new set of computers for a job well done.

Lifelong Learning

Even experienced managers can learn new tricks. To delve deeper, hire a corporate coach, trainer, psychologist, HR specialist, or other trained professionals. They can help employees learn to set goals, solve problems, and have effective communication. You might encourage employees to sign up for a formal mentoring program that has a proven track record with resolving accountability issues. When you learn how to benchmark employee accountability, your company will be able to cut costs, improve morale, enhance productivity, and position yourselves for future growth.

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Charlie Kimmel

Charlie Kimmel

President & CEO

Charlie Kimmel has dedicated his career to executive search. Charlie is an honors graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He began his career at Kimmel & Associates as a recruiter in 1990.

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