Accountability is essential in every team. It’s part of the glue that holds everyone together. Without it, teams cannot work together effectively or share good morale.

We’ll discuss the importance of accountability in the workplace and share some tips and tricks on incorporating it into your daily lives!

What is Accountability?

When a person has accountability, they understand and own the responsibility for their actions, behaviors, decisions, and ultimately, performance.

Apple coined the term “Directly Responsible Individual” (DRI). No matter how big or small a task or role is, Apple assigns someone directly responsible for it. The DRI would be held accountable for the specific success or failure of the tasks they’ve been given.

Because Apple deliberately assigns responsibility to individuals, people are more likely to hold themselves accountable, resulting in higher performance and harmony amongst teams.

Here are some examples of accountability in the workplace:

  • Being respectful of everyone’s time
  • Show up to work (and meetings) prepared and on-time
  • Completing assigned tasks by the timeline you agreed on
  • Understanding you have a responsibility for the success of your team, and you put in the effort to support your team
  • Not sweeping problems under the rug
  • Not automatically assuming someone else has already dealt with an issue
  • Flagging issues as they arise
  • Taking ownership and owning up to mistakes
  • Not finger pointing or blaming others
  • Proactively working with team members to solve the challenge

Benefits of Accountability in the Workplace

When everyone is on board and can hold not only themselves accountable, but each other, it improves morale, increases commitment to work, which leads to higher performance.

Here are some other benefits of having a team that holds themselves accountable:

  • Less room for passing blame
  • Clarity and transparency in decision-making
  • Forms stronger trust amongst team
  • Less micromanaging

Lack of Accountability at Work

Examples of lack of accountability are: lack of punctuality and missed deadlines. If people are not being held accountable, this might establish that this is the “acceptable norm”, causing bad habits. Then, your team will suffer, and so will your office culture.

Partners In Leadership listed some of the most prominent side effects when it comes to lack of accountability:

  • High turnover rate
  • Lower levels of trust
  • Priorities are unclear across the team
  • Less engagement amongst employees
  • Goals end up being unmet
  • Poor team morale

When one item is unfinished, and no one is held accountable, your team members might think that it’s tolerated. A delay on one person’s end might snowball into a delay of the whole team. That is the opposite of effective work!

Ways to Promote Accountability at Work

Work on The Art of Giving Feedback

Whether it’s peer-to-peer or manager to employee, communication skills are key. Having an open conversation encourages people to raise concerns and discuss (instead of burying their head in the sand, avoidant of consequences).

Set the expectation that challenges are part of work and it’s through constructive feedback, brainstorming, and solution-oriented collaboration that you grow, together as a team, and skillset-wise.

Kim Scott’s book “Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying what You Mean” coins the concept of “Radical Candor”. It’s the sweet spot between being overly aggressive or empathetic when communicating. The key is to challenge directly but care personally. Ways are sharing your stories, soliciting feedback, and giving fair guidance: both praise and criticism in a caring, constructive way.

Set Short-Term & Long-Term Goals

Set a monthly goal, a quarterly goal, a yearly goal, and 5 year goal for yourself and the team. Focus on the metrics and deliverables each individual and or team is responsible for.

Let’s use a company’s Sales and Marketing team as an example. These two departments are often siloed and blame each other: “Marketing isn’t bringing in enough leads”, or “The Sales team isn’t closing the deals”. The two teams should get together and discuss the Key Performance Metrics and their objectives, all while making a list of responsibilities and tasks.

The Marketing team promises to deliver 50 leads a month; the Sales team commits to following up with all leads within 2 business days they come in. This facilitates a better, more efficient workflow between the two teams. Adding on from the previous point of feedback, the Sales and Marketing team can get together once a month to discuss how the leads were. Maybe the quality was sub-par, or maybe there were too many leads and not enough time for the Sales team to follow up. Then they’ll be able to collaborate to revise the goals and process for something that works for both teams.

Once a goal is achieved, it gives a great sense of accomplishment. Working together smartly towards a common goal is the key to success.

Demonstrate Accountability For Others to Follow Suit

Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability. This is especially key for managers in a workplace. When leading a team, they look up to you, and you should be setting the standard and pace when it comes to performance and culture. If you show up to meetings late, don’t own up to your mistakes, or keep pushing deadlines back, people will follow your lead.

Try and promote a culture of self-leadership. When open conversations are encouraged, individuals are proud to hold themselves accountable because that means they have the power in their own hands to avoid being micromanaged.

Incorporate It into Your Company Culture

An award-winning, Canadian ad agency, War Room Inc grew its team size by 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic. How? They promote a culture of self-leadership. They also teach the “Ladder of Accountability” is part of the onboarding process.

Here’s how it works: there are two sections of the ladder – the top half is where you WANT to be when it comes to accountability, and the bottom half is where you DON’T want to be.

Top Half:

  • Make It Happen

The highest level of accountability you can achieve. You are committed to success: you assume responsibility, implement solutions, and get things done!

  • Find Solutions

You understand you’re owning the problem and are proactive in finding solutions. Even if you can’t personally resolve the issues, you use your resources and connections to fix it.

  • Own It

You have grabbed life by the horns. At this stage, you own your responsibilities without making excuses or blaming others.

  • Acknowledge Reality

At this stage, you’ve chosen to start accepting your current reality instead of hoping for a miracle. You are about to get real and acknowledge your situation.

Bottom Half:

  • Wait & Hope

“Sharon will probably take care of it” – no, Sharon won’t. Nor will there be a knight in shining armor coming to rescue you. You know that there is a problem, But instead of taking action, you hope for a miracle to solve it magically. Surprise: it doesn’t.

  • Excuses

“Oh, I’m too busy,” “I don’t know how”…sound familiar? It’s time to stop saying “I can’t” and start taking ownership. Reality check: YOU are the one in control of what’s happening to you.

  • Blaming

To get out of perpetual misery, it’s important to stop playing the victim. Don’t try to escape responsibility by finger-pointing and blaming others. You’re actually giving up your power to grow and change.

  • Denial

This is the worst stage to be in: you willfully have your head in the sand, ignoring reality. Stop pretending the problem isn’t there – it’s not going anywhere. It’s time to stop being in denial and time to look at what’s happening around you.

This helps employees identify what stage they’re in. The goal is to encourage them to continue to climb on the “ladder” until the very top. This tool is helpful to use in one’s work-life and personal life. It helps form stronger relationships, fuel your energy and give you confidence in tackling challenges.

Consider adding the Ladder of Accountability into your employee handbook or post it around the office. And don’t forget to lead by example!

So there you have it! Accountability is crucial in any workplace because it encourages autonomy, problem-solving, and collaboration.

We hope this gave you some insight into ways you can improve your team’s morale and efficiency.

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