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How to Cultivate a Culture of Employee Accountability

by | May 1, 2016 | Business Strategy & Process, Digital Marketing, Leadership & Management

Companies will experience a higher-level of productivity and efficiency by holding staff accountable for the individual choices they make. Unfortunately, this is frequently accomplished by wielding a specter of fear of punishment or reprisal if performance expectations are not met. Oftentimes, this method appears to work…at least temporarily. But it does not create an environment of employee satisfaction and fulfillment that is required to sustain a positive culture.

For accountability to be effective, it must be fostered, not forced. There is a fine line you must walk to maintain an innovative culture while at the same time increasing employee accountability. The goal is to empower your employees to be creative at the same time they follow a company roadmap of a common set of goals and success metrics.

Your approach should be to implement strategies to encourage team buy-in. Each member must have a sense of mutually fostered trust, respect and resolve in order to reach the goals set before them. A shared sense of accountability will determine how they approach their assignments and tasks.

To create a culture where everyone is engaged and consistently held accountable by both their peers and company processes will help solidify an understanding that success is the summation of the collective results of individual actions. Your job, then, is to equip your employees with necessary skills to meet challenges with that understanding.

If you approach the task of increasing employee accountability that is not based on fear or fallacy but rather includes employee engagement, you’ll need to follow a few guidelines that may take you out of your own comfort zone. And, building a culture of accountability this way doesn’t happen quickly. But, you will soon see it will be worth the effort in the long run. You will create a culture that is resilient, ever-learning, and committed to positive results.

This is what you need to focus on to get you there:

Hire the Right People

Let’s start at the beginning. As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, such as How to Create a Successful Virtual Team, though individuals may look good on paper, it’s important to hire people based on character, cultural fit and work ethic in addition to skillsets and experiences. You want every team member to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve success.

The foundation of your company depends upon the strength and can-do attitude of each individual member. Strive to hire people who believe in your company and its core values and that have the ‘grit’ and resilience to keep focused on the end goal during good times and bad.

Clearly Define Organizational Roles, Responsibilities, and Goals

Align individual goals with organizational goals, setting specific objectives with clear deadlines. Make sure everyone knows who will accomplish what by when. If all team members know how their work contributes to the overall picture, they will feel a greater sense of accountability than they would if they don’t understand how their role fits in or what, exactly, is expected.

You may even consider encouraging employees to set their own goals. Oftentimes, this increases motivation. Be sure to use the SMART framework (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound).

Empower Your Employees to Achieve Goals

Some managers believe employee engagement and delight comes from a working in a stress-free environment. They erroneously believe that motivation will come from them creating ideal circumstances. As a result, they invest a sizeable amount of resources trying to make this happen.

But, actually, if your staff can begin to see through a lens of accountability, they start to see that they can empower themselves – making their own circumstances and situations ideal. Subsequently, they learn that they can handle absolutely every challenge that comes their way.

Consider this: if you trust your employees with level of flexibility and freedom, you are empowering them to take ownership of their own projects and initiatives. Understandably, it is sometimes difficult to determine how much autonomy to allow. But, if you’ve accomplished our first point and have hired employees who demonstrate trustworthiness and integrity, this should not be an issue.

What if an employee doesn’t do what they’ve been empowered to do?  Don’t sweep it under the rug. Address the situation to glean facts that very well might benefit the entire organization. The goal is to use all experiences to the benefit of the company in a cycle of continual improvement.

And, remember accountability helps prevent micromanagement. If your goal is to teach your employees the heuristics so that they can make the best decisions for the company, you will achieve a very worthwhile goal of making yourself unnecessary for the oversight and day-to-day management requirements that plague poorer managers.

Embrace Challenges

Expanding on the topic of empowerment, consider encouraging employees to leave their comfort zones by assigning tasks that may include a significant learning opportunity and may include feelings of ‘risk of failure’ during the learning process. This will increase their competencies, helping them to learn what works and what doesn’t, so they can learn to adapt and grow, and at the same time, increase their professional skill set and worth.

Measure and Monitor Accountability

The previous points of organizing and empowering must be followed up with accurate and timely monitoring and measuring.

Some managers engage in a brief daily face-to-face or video chat; others require short performance progress reports on key areas of responsibility – often sent to the entire team. This helps to reinforce clarity of ownership and accountability as well as revealing progress – or lack thereof. This helps keep the team functioning on the same page and reinforces a culture of accountability.

Provide Consistent and Regular Feedback

Rigorous developmental and performance feedback, with consistency, is key for efficacy and growth. And, always make sure those who do complete projects timely and well are recognized and encouraged.

Encourage Collaboration

As we know, an organization cannot be steered most effectively with the dominance of individual egos and personalities. Instead, encourage cohesiveness – with everyone working in tandem to reach common goals. This action must be rooted in respect with a strong desire for collaboration. Think of this as a musical composition where there is general a focus on harmony but with individual opportunities for solo performance.

Don’t Stifle Communication

Open and transparent work can only be facilitated with open and easy communication. Encourage it. Though there is always a time and a place for formality, mix it up on occasion. Add a little whimsy to your communiqué practices.

At DirectiveGroup, we try to follow the What Makes A Remarkable Employee guidelines, where every team member is encouraged – among other things – to learn how to raise concerns either in a public group setting or private setting as deemed most appropriate.

Encourage Risky Behavior

Earlier we discussed encouraging flexibility and freedom as a course of employee empowerment. Though this might raise doubts in your mind, if you truly do encourage individual empowerment, you are in essence encouraging risk taking.

You can safely allow your employees to take calculated risks by providing clear performance metrics so you both can monitor what is working and what is not. If you entrust and inspire resourcefully-risky behavior, you are nurturing a high-level of innovation, which will encourage an ever-increasing accountable company culture.

Additionally, if you’ve done a good job of helping your employees learn the heuristics of good decision making in your company, this last step really just extends you and your capabilities by bringing some new thinking and new insights into the mix. So while it might feel ‘risky’ it actually can be risk-reducing for your company, a real win in today’s highly competitive environment.

Hire the right people, clearly define their goals – while teaching them to take the appropriate calculated risks – and monitor the outcome. Communicate effectively, carefully keeping the team and the individuals on course. And, always encourage team collaboration. Follow this standard and you should experience a sustained positive outcome.

If you have a good idea or example to share, please let us know. This is a subject near and dear to us and we’d love to discuss with you to hear your thoughts.


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