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How Do You Stress Accountability Among Employees Without Sounding Threatening?

December 17, 2013

Dear Performance:

How does one take a supposed cultural value “off the wall” and into the work that’s happening every day? It turns out that it just takes down-to-earth application of accountability for the concept to become real. In the modern workplace, accountability is mostly about doing what you say you will do, by a given deadline, and in a high-quality, error-free fashion. The rest is more difficult, but crucial: If there is failure to complete work on time and in support of others, what happens?

First, do your employee onboarding and orientation materials include a detailed discussion of the concept and how it applies in the organization? It may sound trite, but getting the word in use is a big part of getting behind the concept. In addition, be sure to provide examples of the benefits that accrue when coming through with quality work – with contrasting stories of the pitfalls of not taking responsibility for one’s actions. This may provide for an initial emphasis on accountability.

Project management and planning processes are all about accountability. These systems – even in their most rudimentary state – must be taken seriously if they are to aid in the timely completion of work. Do they need to have greater reach (and documentation) in more projects and systems? In addition, when customers are involved, accountability involves a host of potential dilemmas. Emphasizing these opportunities (such as only making promises one can keep) in service guidelines, instructions, and training materials further brings the concept to reality.

But the most important impact of the concept of accountability is in the emphasis placed on it by leaders, from first-line supervisors to executives. As in every organizational culture, accountability matters, but only to the extent that leaders also mean what they say, emphasize timely and accurate completion of work, and respect colleagues. Do your managers have the skills and motivation to encourage accountability in their units, teams, or departments? If not, the term “accountability” is destined to remain in your list of corporate values, but not in the hearts and minds of your associates.

Mark C. Healy, Rocket-Hire LLC, New Orleans, December 16, 2013.