Why has accountability become such a hot-button topic in the workplace today? It is the subject of books, blogs (some of the better blogs, I might add), business articles and surveys. One can find dozens of ways to assess accountability issues, and one can find just as many differing opinions on how to “fix” the problem once pinpointed. I’ve been in the business of managing teams for let’s just say ‘a few years,’ and the one thing I have determined is that you simply cannot force an employee to be accountable any more than you can make the proverbial horse drink water.  However, I have found that we learn from those around us and we can design environments which can enable accountability to flourish.

Unfortunately, often times accountability tends to be driven by fear of punishment and retribution- if you don’t perform, you could get fired. While this approach might get the job done initially, it certainly doesn’t help in the employee satisfaction and fulfillment area and severely hinders innovation and risk taking. We want employees motivated to engage in their work, not motivated to avoid punishment.  So, what is an employer to do? I have found that we, as employers and managers, need to be very intentional about the environments we create in the workplace if we want to foster accountability. Here are a few specifics:

We need to clearly define roles and responsibilities. If employees are unclear about what their specific role is and what is expected of them, they will not feel comfortable accepting ownership and accountability. At Apple, every single initiative or task has a “Directly Responsible Individual” or DRI who is in charge of seeing the particular task through to completion. Therefore, there is no confusion as to who is accountable for what and when.

Development of SMART goals. Developing specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and time bound goals will help your employee to feel more confident in their work and its a way for them to measure their own productivity.

We need to develop a sense of ownership for team results. Each member of the organization should have an obligation to seek information, give and receive feedback and point out the need for corrective actions at any time. Equally important, is to make sure employees know exactly how their work contributes toward the organizational goals. Fostering a sense of accountability to the business.

Give employees a sense of control over their success or failure. Creating an environment where employees feel that they are empowered to succeed or fail on their own merits is a powerful motivator for accountability. We must remember that people are wired for fairness and need to feel they are being judged fairly.

Give employees sufficient authority to make decisions. Most problems have multiple right answers, so give people the freedom and control they need to make decisions. There is nothing more frustrating than attempting to solve an issue knowing that you do not have the authority to make a decision. Support is key- be sure people have the resources, knowledge and assistance they need.

Provide coaching, monitoring and mentoring on an ongoing basis. It is only natural that when we know someone is watching our progress we will try to perform to the best of our abilities.  Coaching and mentoring will help employees to learn what areas need more attention and what areas they are excelling in.

Every employee, no matter what level of seniority is equally responsible for aiding in the success of their company. Whether its driven solely by career advancement, to help others, or spurred on just because they like their coworkers and don’t want to let them down, accountability is a requirement for organizations to run productively and efficiently.  Lets face it, all employees have their idiosyncrasies that drive them, so the best you can do as an employer is to create conditions that foster accountability, after that employees must decide how to respond. Its kind of like gardening. The truth is, seeds will grow on their own, but you can create conditions that help them grow strong and healthy. But even in a perfect greenhouse environment, some seeds still won’t grow.

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