Accountability In The Workplace: What It Is And Why You Need It

Discover exactly what accountability is, how it can transform your organization, and how to make your business more accountable.

August 4, 2022
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Nobody’s perfect.

We all make mistakes – and that doesn’t change when we step into the office in the morning. Even the most honest and hard-working employee is going to make the wrong call, miss a deadline, or put their foot in it every now and then. That’s just life.

What sets the most successful organizations apart is that their people take personal accountability for their slip-ups. They admit they made a mistake, dust themselves off, and learn from it. 

Create a culture of accountability in your organization and you can benefit from a workforce that owns its missteps, reflects on them, and becomes better off for them.

Read on to discover exactly what accountability is, how it can transform your organization, and how to make your business more accountable.

What is accountability in the workplace?

Accountability in the workplace is when your people make commitments and stick to them. Part of that is holding their hands up and admitting when they’ve fallen short of the commitments they’ve made to their colleagues.

Examples of accountability in the workplace include:

  • A corporate commitment an organization makes to diversify its workforce (like Adidas's).
  • A manager committing to embodying the ten traits of an effective leader.
  • An employee committing to own a KPI and take the lead on making sure it gets hit.

Why is accountability good in the workplace?

It’s impossible for an organization to thrive without accountability. Accountability is what gives deadlines and objectives meaning. If no one is held to task for falling short, then why try? 

Without a culture of accountability, an employee might not think there’s any point in flagging that they’re constantly having to pick up the slack caused by a teammate that isn’t pulling their weight. Then you might end up losing your top performers to organizations that do hold their staff accountable.

And as the old adage goes: people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. If managers aren’t held accountable for giving their reports autonomy and making sure they’re recognised, employee engagement is bound to suffer.

And if your organization hasn’t committed to firm goals, your employees won’t have a common cause to rally behind. Set an ambitious and transparent goal that your team is accountable for achieving and they’ll have a cause to rally behind – a key ingredient of employee engagement.

Try Assembly to make it easy for your whole organization to keep track of your organization’s objectives.  

What are the four steps to accountability? 

You can’t create a culture of accountability overnight.

But you can follow these four simple steps to bake accountability into every level of your organization as quickly as possible:

  1. Get clear on what “accountability” means in your organization 

The first hurdle most organizations need to overcome is defining how your leaders and employees are expected to be accountable to be one another – and exactly what that’s going to look like.

So, your first step is to define:

  • How your people should make commitments to one another, 
  • What they should make commitments about, 
  • How they should measure and report progress on their commitments,
  • How much ownership they should be expected to take to get things done.

Bake this into your company culture (and your onboarding process) and every employee will know what’s expected of them and their colleagues. 

Book a demo of Assembly to make it easy to document your accountability guidelines.

  1. Get clear on your goals

You can’t expect your people to hold themselves accountable to achieving individual goals if your organization hasn’t committed to its own clear objectives. 

And yet 85% of workers say they aren’t even sure what their organization is trying to achieve – and 33% that their priorities change frequently. 

You can’t expect your employees to feel accountable to goals that are badly defined and constantly changing. If your teammates can’t see how their responsibilities help achieve your business’s wider objectives, they’re not going to feel accountable for getting them over the line. What’s the point, after all?

Defining your company’s goals and connecting them to each team’s day-to-day responsibilities is therefore an essential step in creating a culture of accountability across your organization.

  1. Get clear on what accountability means for your leaders

84% of workers say the way leaders behave is the single most important factor influencing accountability in their organizations. But just 15% of leaders have successfully clearly defined and broadly communicated their key results.

Your employees will do as your organization’s leaders do, not what they say. That means your senior staff need to lead by example when it comes to accountability.

If your business’s leaders can be transparent, admit when they’ve made a mistake, and listen to feedback, then their reports are a lot more likely to follow their lead. Get accountability right at the top of the corporate ladder and it trickles down.

  1. Get clear on what accountability means for employees

Accountability only counts for something if your colleagues feel like they can hold each other – and their leaders – to the commitments they make. 

If an employee misses a deadline it can cause a huge headache for their teammates. And if your staff don’t feel like they can take each other to task for those kinds of slip-ups then you don’t have an accountable organization.

But 82% of workers say they either try but fail to hold their colleagues accountable or avoid it altogether. And if no one ever gets held accountable for dropping the ball, then why try?

For an organization to be truly accountable, you need to encourage open and honest lines of communication across your teams. A team retrospective after each project is a great starting point (here’s how to create a simple Team Retrospective workflow in Assembly). Encouraging your employees to take accountability for where they might have fallen short during the project – and suggesting areas their teammates might need to take accountability – is an incredibly effective way of creating a more accountable company culture. 

Try Assembly to make team retrospectives straightforward.  

The importance of accountability in the workplace really can’t be understated. Your organization’s leaders, managers, and employees all being held accountable for their commitments and responsibilities is the foundation of any successful business. Without it, you’ll struggle to get anything done and your employees are unlikely to be engaged.

Follow the four steps we’ve laid out in this article to make sure people are fully accountable across every level of your business.

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