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Boost Accountability by Modeling Accountability

by Hal Levenson on Nov 06, 2013 10:09:24 AM

Accountability has been a buzzword in the business world for as long as most of us can recall. Unfortunately, however, most of us have a negative association with the word. We often use it as if it means blame and punishment, as in “Who is accountable for this mistake?” As a result, we unconsciously try to avoid it.

The truth is that accountability is unavoidable. In the workplace, everyone is accountable to someone. As an entrepreneur or business owner, you are accountable to the success of your business and to your customers, employees and stakeholders.

Now, what if being accountable was empowering for you and your employees? Research indicates that rather than a negative force, holding people accountable for their actions and results has very positive effects on morale and performance.

For your employees, an environment of accountability produces vigilant problem-solving, better decision-making, and greater job satisfaction. With an environment of accountability, employees can develop their skills and be their best. It means a higher likelihood of reaching goals, which we all want.

For you, accountability is also critical. In the past, most of us were accountable to someone. But when we struck out on our own, and became the boss, we lost that accountability. While many entrepreneurs and business owners are able to be self-accountable, this is often challenging. For tasks requiring great discipline (e.g., calling 25 prospective investors every day), sometimes more accountability is needed to ensure they get done.

Here are some ways to boost accountability in your company:

  1. Create accountability standards for yourself. What happens if you don’t complete a task? Do you force yourself to stay late to do it? Or are there no immediate consequences? Figure out how to reward yourself for being fully accountable, and give yourself a penalty of some sort when you are not.
  2. Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability. Your first step as the manager of your employees is to make sure they have very clearly defined roles, job descriptions, and duties.
  3. Accountability is an attitude, so see yourself as the role model. Are you being accountable to your employees, clients, and yourself? You, as the leader, will want to model this attitude. Thus, you need to focus on being accountable in addition to holding others accountable.
  4. Do you have written expectations of your employees? Starting at the time of hire, if possible, create written expectations and standards of performance for each employee. You cannot expect something from someone who has not had the opportunity to buy in to the expectation.
  5. Do your employees have a working plan – a project timeline, an economic model, etc? This will help keep them accountable.
  6. Do your employees have training? You cannot hold someone accountable to something they have not been trained to do!
  7. Have you created a learning-based environment? Is it okay to make a mistake or say, “I don’t know?” Creating a safe environment for mistakes encourages accountability. Employees will be less afraid to share mistakes and other negative feedback with you that can be used to correct the root of the problem if they cannot safely admit a mistake. The opposite would be a culture of “yes men” (which you certainly don’t want).
  8. Are there real consequences for lack of accountability in your organization? Consequences work best when spelled out before they are actually needed, in expectations, for example.
  9. Do your employees have the talent and ability needed for the task? Some people will not have the ability to do the job you are asking them to do regardless of having a well-defined role, a great manager, and excellent training. Try to determine this when hiring, but keep an eye on employees throughout their working time with you to confirm it.

Without accountability, no one knows the goal or who is supposed to do what. There’s no way of knowing what’s going on, so things don’t get done – big surprise! Without the right accountability, you will create an environment of low productivity and high turnover.

Conversely, setting up the right accountability structures, as discussed above, will create a culture in which goals are constantly attained. So make a plan today to implement the tips above. After all, if you don’t emphasize and demonstrate the importance of reaching the goals you set, who will.


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