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Accountability–the unglamorous (but essential) workplace principle

Fostering accountability among your team members can have incredible benefits for workplace dynamics—and your company’s outcomes.

Our culture often romanticizes the renegade. The one with the devil-may-care attitude who doesn’t pay much attention to those supposedly boring things called responsibilities. You know the character—the one who drives a motorcycle, never a minivan.

On the screen, it’s glamorous. But in real life? That person is a total drag. Those who earn praise and respect are the people others can depend on, in life and especially at work. Without them, things at home and the office can crumble.

It all boils down to accountability, that staid-sounding but essential quality. Mike Scott, founder of Total Accountability Systems (or TAS), defines accountability as this: “Doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it, when you said you would do it, with no surprises.” 

How could that be anything but a plus?

The ownership mentality 

Accountability has two aspects: performance as well as ownership over that performance. Whether we’re on top of things or falling behind, accountability demands the same thing— taking responsibility for our role in the outcome.

It might mean a project manager delivering materials when he says he will or communicating immediately when he encounters challenges in fulfilling that task. Another example is a leader committed to arriving to work on time each day to model behavior for her team, taking accountability for her actions. 

When people know they can count on each other in the workplace, they establish stronger bonds with their teammates and the company’s mission. They build trust in themselves and among each other. And they meet outcomes consistently. Altogether, a workplace that fosters a highly accountable culture boosts morale—and the bottom line.

Accountability for the win

Achieving a high level of consistent responsibility has a multitude of benefits for workplaces:

1. It enhances employee engagement and productivity.

Think of accountability as the anti-micromanagement solution: by expecting everyone to be responsible for their jobs and outcomes, you encourage them to own their part of the work. That mentality develops highly engaged and independent employees who do the tasks others expect of them because it’s part of the culture—not because someone else is breathing down their neck (a management technique that is unsustainable at best).

2. It boosts collaboration between team members.

A culture of chaos can’t breed collaboration; there isn’t enough space and time amidst the urgency. But in a workplace that makes accountability the foundation, staff are naturally more collaborative because it requires frequent communication and a proactive approach. Both enhance people’s ability to work together.

3. It builds a culture of trust and credibility.

It's a summer camp trope: the trust fall. But the game is a winning cliche for a reason. Trust builds strong teams, and the only way to establish it is when everyone can be relied upon to do their best work. That’s the power of an accountability-based culture: people know that others depend on them to rise to the occasion, and they deliver.

4. It benefits the bottom line.

According to a Gallup workplace study: “Simply put, engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees do—across industries, company sizes and nationalities, and in good economic times and bad.” Fostering a culture where team members care about meeting goals enhances performance, and a high-performing team boosts the bottom line. 

Fostering a culture of responsibility

By now, you well understand how foundational accountability is to a positive work culture and the benefits it has for an organization. But the task of creating that culture can seem daunting. 

Remember that progress in this area builds on itself; accountability spreads as people see that taking responsibility is encouraged among leadership and their colleagues.

Here are some approaches to increase accountability in your workplace:

Outline expectations and goals clearly.

People can’t fulfill their duties until they clearly understand what they are. Ensure that every single team member comprehends their individual responsibilities and expectations, as well as the collective company goals you’re all working towards. And while you’re at it, let them know how fulfilling those responsibilities contributes to the wider mission of the team. You want every person to know the role they play matters.

Incorporate open communication.

In a workplace that prioritizes accountability, communication will have two prominent features: it will be early, and it will be often. Fostering a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up about potential challenges or unexpected issues ensures accountability can flourish. When people feel afraid to communicate, they ultimately shirk responsibility, a recipe for quashing accountability before it starts.

Provide regular check-ins and performance reviews.

A leader who checks in is vastly different from a leader who micromanages. The first encourages accountability by reminding employees that someone expects great things from them. The latter suffocates good performance out of their team by never establishing trust. Prioritize check-ins to encourage good communication about projects and offer regular performance reviews to assess team and individual progress. When things do go wrong, be transparent and provide constructive feedback, rather than play the blame game. The idea is to quickly learn and improve so the same mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.

Dependability boosts morale

While it’s challenging to build a culture of accountability, once it’s in place, it reinforces itself. Reliable behavior tends to produce more reliable behavior. Plus, it makes for a team that is happier and more engaged, producing better outcomes for your business.

Implement these changes and watch your employee’s sense of personal responsibility increase, encouraging respect and trust in the process.



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