So many workplace issues, from employee job performance and engagement, to driving business results, customer loyalty, and profitability could be easily resolved if more managers engaged in holding themselves and their team accountable. Accountability for some seems to be a bad word that leads to low worker morale. Some see it as a form of workplace bullying, but there is nothing further from the truth.
The word accountability is often inaccurately defined, and ineffectively applied. In the workplace, accountability is defined as the act of holding others responsible or answerable for their actions (good or bad), for exemplary job performance, and achieving business results. Accountability is not demoralizing staff members for the sake of making a point or an example of them. It is not directing staff members in a condescending manner, or by fear and intimidation.
Accountability is about setting the expectation, clearly communicating it, and then holding yourself and everyone within your sphere of influence responsible for consistently meeting the established expectations. Accountability is a process, with a beginning and an end. It is not about telling people what you expect them to do, then quickly moving on to the next thing.
As I travel the country sharing basics to build leadership effectiveness, I consistently emphasize the importance of leadership and employee accountability in creating a sustaining a culture of service, performance, and operational excellence. While many leaders strongly agree with me, few know what is necessary to ensure accountability in the workplace. There are five specific steps to holding employees accountable for excellence. Growing up as a young manager, my mentors demonstrated these five steps which such a high level of intensity, sincerity, and finesse that I had no option but to accept personal accountability for driving excellence.
Step 1 – Clearly define the expectation or standard – People cannot be held accountable for what they have not been informed of. Don’t assume employees know what a good job looks like. Paint the picture by clarifying, detailing, and outlining what you expect. Keep in mind, you don’t clarify expectations after something goes wrong, at that point you should be reinforcing them. Here’s an example of what I am speaking of: Excellence in an office setting at the reception desk means the workplace is immaculate, spotless; the telephone calls are answered within three rings (and with a smile); employees are appropriately attired, wearing their proper name tag; every visitor who enters the reception area immediately receives a warm and friendly greeting, using their name when and if possible.
Step #2 – Involve staff in efforts to raise the bar – Once the expectations have been defined, they should be shared with employees during departmental meetings. Then staff members should be given an opportunity to voice their opinions or concerns regarding the new standard. To ensure clarity and gain buy-in, ask questions like: Do you think that we can achieve this new standard? What do you believe might stand in the way? What potential barriers might we face? What do we need (i.e. tools, resources, training) to consistently meet the new standard or expectation? In the long run, giving employees an opportunity to voice their concerns will enhance their commitment and support of the new standard or expectation. It shows that you care, value their opinions, and demonstrates that you are committed to making them a part of the solution and are not just forcing the new standard down their throats.
Step #3 – Integrate the new standard – Now its time for all of the talking, brainstorming, and sharing of ideas and best practices to turn into action. To build accountability, the newly agreed upon standard or expectation must be fully integrated into every aspect of the work environment – to include the training and development process, performance review criteria, and all applicable systems and work processes. This shows that you are thorough, mean business, and have a sustainability strategy in mind. And guess what? Your team should be 100% involved in this process – to build teamwork, camaraderie, and to make them feel like valued contributors to the organization’s success.
Step 4 – Set up measurements to quantify success – Use internal, key indicators or measurements to assess how effective the team is at following and upholding the new standard or expectation. Key indicators might include customer and employee satisfaction survey results, productivity reports, or even labor turnover results. If your company doesn’t have a process in place to measure key indicators like these, then work with your team to create a simplistic scorecard that everyone can understand and support.
Step 5 – Recognize success, and coach for improved performance – Make it a priority to regularly acknowledge and reward employees who consistently exemplify the new standard or expectation. This not only encourages them to keep up the good work, but it also sets the standard by which everyone should be measured. And don’t overlook those employees who fall below the standard by not consistently meeting performance expectations. Commit to routine coaching and counseling, working with them on an improvement plan to help them achieve success.
Early in my career as a manager, often I realized that employees weren’t living up to my expectations in their job. At first, I thought just telling them what was expected was enough, but boy was I wrong. It wasn’t until I began modeling the actions and behaviors of my mentors that I was able to drive success and overall accountability within my team.