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If your idea of holding people accountable centers on maintaining control of everyone’s deadlines welcome to exhaustion and frustration!

In reality, accountability and employee engagement go hand-in-hand.

According to a Gallup survey, poor employee engagement manifests itself in:

  • Higher absenteeism
  • Higher turnover
  • Lower customer loyalty
  • Lower productivity
  • Lower profitability

See where things are headed?

An All-Too-Common Story

As the critical deadline approaches, your level of confidence remains high. After all, you provided the necessary details and painted a picture of the dire consequences of being late.

One problem: You left no room for ambiguity.

The status meeting begins with two team members informing you their tasks are complete. Ahhh, the relief you feel as your tension and blood pressure ease up until you realize that the “complete” tasks still require final user testing for 50 bugs and the audit sign-off.

That means the project, already in peril, now faces further delay.

As the project manager, you regret trusting others who didn’t perform, and you question your management of the project and deadline. Resentment sets in. Next time, you tell yourself things will be different.

And yet, it happens again. What gives?

Accountability is an Indication of Integrity

The mental picture of a harsh boss yelling randomly at employees represents the cliché concept of accountability. What accountability actually looks like in real life is vastly different.

What “Accountability” Really Means

  • man in suit holding employee accountable

    Doing what you say you will do.

  • Ensuring your people do what they say they will do.
  • Providing a full justifiable explanation far in advance of deadlines when failing to do what was committed.

Accountability breeds trust and is a high indicator of integrity. It may seem obvious, but the fastest way to develop trust with others is to do exactly what you say you will do.

If your staff agreed to do something once and they don’t do it, that is a lack of integrity in them, showing an inability to keep their commitments.

However, if your staff has agreed to do something continually and they don’t do it, that is a lack of accountability on you!

In short: Accountability gaps can be frustrating at best and devastating at worst.

What Happens Without Accountability?

  • People don’t do what they say they will do
  • The same problems occur over and over again
  • Lower standards become the norm
  • Productivity decreases
  • Trust among team members fades
  • The morale of the team erodes

How to Improve and Leverage Accountability

Accountability can’t be forced or mandated. Successfully holding people accountable involves leading by example. Executives, directors, and front line managers must create a culture of accountability by exemplifying what they expect from their co-workers.

4 Tips for Improving Accountability Across Your Organization

large group of workers walking together
  1. Get organized – Have you ever left a meeting where everyone agreed to the next steps and tasks to complete, only to find out in the hallway that each person has misinterpreted the goal? Here’s how to avoid that:
    • Get buy-in, commitment, and explicit agreement during the meeting from all participants.
    • Keep a record of all commitments, owners, and deadlines for follow-up.
    • And finally, actually, follow up.
  2. OVER-CommunicateWhat’s clear to some may be foggy to others. Here’s how to avoid ambiguity:
    • Be very clear about what “complete” or “finished means. Offer examples and have a team discussion so that everyone understands.
    • After the commitments are made, send all participants a recap of the tasks, owners, and deadlines.
    • Have regular check-ins to get progress and re-confirm the deadline.
    • Have team discussions and agreements on the impact of not following through – be very clear about the consequences for the project and the individual.
  3. Set the Example – Walk the talk. Employees see through hypocrisy. Here’s why setting the example is important:
    • Employees give themselves a mile when management lets a deadline slip an inch.
    • Sometimes the team doesn’t have insight into your work; however, honoring your commitments in all things sends a strong, positive message to everyone you deal with.
  4. Be Realistic – The unexpected happens. How to plan for it:
    • Develop a process for the team to follow when deadlines are jeopardized so everyone knows what to do and when. Ideally, any threat to a deadline should be communicated to the impacted individuals as soon as they are discovered.

How Does Accountability Drive Organizational Success?

It all sounds good and makes sense, but is it an overstatement to say that holding people accountable creates value for the company? Long-term adherence to sincere accountability with the team translates to many intangible benefits that eventually turn into profits:

  • Setting clear accountability standards sends the message to employees that they can solve problems and empowers them to do that. Where once they would hand the obstacles back to you, they will eventually begin to find creative solutions autonomously before coming to you.
  • Making decisions will help the team grow into more capable members, and their contributions will mature.
  • Gradually, employees will move away from a task-oriented mentality and adopt a co-owner mindset.

The real benefit of teaching your team to follow through on every expectation is that they will develop good decision-making skills that will contribute to your company’s success.

Our Nine Ground Rules for Cohesive Team Behavior® will help you increase success through mindset change, behavior change, and implementing habits. Contact us for a free consultation to see how our team can help.


Donna Grant

Donna Grant has over 20 years’ experience in managing complex projects while preparing, nurturing, and navigating the teams through change.

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