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5 Ways to Build a Culture of Accountability at Your Company

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It has become increasingly challenging to foster effective communication and manage delegated tasks and responsibilities in the modern work era. That’s why cultivating a culture of accountability within your organization is key to overall success. Not only will an accountable workforce perform better, but this shift will also intrinsically enhance workplace gratification.

Despite the importance of workplace accountability, many organizations fail at monitoring, managing, and maintaining it. Up to 18% of CEOs admit that holding employees accountable is difficult, while 15% have a hard time letting go of underperforming or problematic workers.

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When a company’s workforce is held accountable for their daily work, business outcomes and employee confidence tend to improve. But when accountability isn’t a priority or isn’t properly enforced, employee performance and morale suffer, as does a company’s overall performance.

That’s why it’s so important for business leaders to recognize and address even the smallest accountability issues within their organization, rather than letting them fester. That just opens the door for bigger (and more costly) problems down the road. 

How do you improve organization-wide accountability? By ensuring that your people are aligned with your company’s goals. When an accountability culture is in place, everyone from the latest junior hire to the C-suite will be more likely to take action when it matters most.

Recognizing accountability issues in your organization

Your workplace culture is the day-to-day status quo for your workforce, which is what makes recognizing accountability problems difficult in the first place. 

That’s why the first step to improving accountability is to take a step back and examine your assumptions. For example, what do you consider “normal” that junior employees and new hires have complained about?

In a large organization or institution, a lack of accountability can manifest in countless ways.

One of the clearest signs of a lack of accountability is finger-pointing. Blaming others and making excuses for misunderstandings or poor performance can create unnecessary drama in the workplace, which can hinder employee performance and hurt the company’s credibility in the long run. 

A lack of discipline and rigor can also quickly lead to a lack of accountability. Without well-considered core values, a shared purpose, or central planning to move your company forward, employees are more likely to default to their own manner of doing things, which can lead to everyone being on different pages. 

Unclear expectations, a lack of follow-through and regular communication, and plain avoidance of difficult discussions can all be signs of accountability issues, too. It’s the job of leadership to set expectations from day one and ensure employees understand what is expected of them before giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Other potential signs of a lack of accountability in your company may include:

  • A lack of clear, strong leadership
  • Regular indecisiveness or slow decision-making
  • Promoting based on tenure, rather than on performance
  • Moving difficult or underperforming employees around, rather than firing them

If you see any of these behaviors or issues within your organization, you likely have growing accountability issues that you needed to address yesterday.

How to make your company culture more accountable

Like the unsuspecting frog in a slowly boiling pot of water, poor accountability is typically a compounding problem that builds slowly over time. But if your organization suffers from a lack of accountability, the good news is that there are several effective ways to regain control and turn the situation around.

1. Workplace culture starts from the top down

It may be hard to accept that your organization has accountability problems, especially if you’re in a high position and believe you’re running a tight ship. But the truth is leaders have to start fixing accountability problems before anyone else can.

After all, your workplace culture (and its problems) typically trickle from the top down.

For example, leaders who want to be liked by their employees—who never want to impose, inconvenience, or seem overbearing when holding employees accountable—can create a poor accountability culture without realizing it. 

Or, if senior leadership only hears “Yes” all the time, they may assume the ship is sailing smoothly even while it’s sinking.

While it’s only natural to want to get along with one’s workers, at the end of the day, holding others accountable is part of management. Shying away from potential conflict may preserve your relationship with your employees in the short-term, but can also have negative long-term ramifications, both for the company and your reputation as a leader in your field.

Lack of self-accountability and unclear expectations from leadership can also lead to poor accountability in the workplace. Not being consistent with holding employees accountable, or worse, not demonstrating responsibility and accountability yourself, sets a poor example for others to follow.

2. Set expectations from day one and get to know your workforce

Unclear expectations can be both a cause and symptom of accountability issues. To avoid them, make sure to always properly set expectations by communicating clearly with each employee. This is one of the few times when “less is more” doesn’t really apply. 

Take the time to talk out assignments, and follow up when possible to ensure employees are staying on track and making good progress. Sometimes detailed instructions may be needed, and it pays to err on the side of caution with newer hires.

It can also help to put expectations and policies in written form, either through email communications or in a company handbook. That way, all employees have access to clear-cut expectations, and leaders won’t have to waste time reexplaining the same things hundreds or even thousands of times.

Remember to take the time to get to know and understand your employees, too. Learn how they are wired to receive information and play to their strengths. 

At the end of the day, your workers are human, with their own set of unique emotional and mental triggers, levers, and sensibilities. Be mindful of this and take the time to meet individuals at their level to strengthen workplace relationships.

3. Create a visual accountability structure to get people on the same page

Putting together a structure for communicating who is accountable for what is also a game-changer. A RACI (Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed) matrix can help you set and maintain clear expectations regarding employee roles and responsibilities for different projects.

These tools makes it easier for leadership to follow up during the lifecycle of any given project to measure progress and gut-check accountability. It also ensures people aren’t working on the same task redundantly or even working against each other due to unclear instructions.

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When it comes to setting clear expectations, utilizing the SMART goal-setting framework can help you prevent miscommunication for critical projects and roles while also keeping your teams accountable for benchmarking goals and tracking results

4. Make it formal and always follow up on progress

Formalizing employee responsibilities, or making extra accountability a more permanent arrangement, can inspire your employees to work more efficiently and improve upon their existing skills and responsibilities. 

Not only does formalizing accountability improve employee ownership over their tasks, but it can also serve as valuable additions to their work experience and skillset. 

From the leadership perspective, formally defining accountability can give you a standard by which to recognize team members for their efforts, or even additional responsibility and acknowledgment for future positions. 

Don’t forget to follow up with your employees when giving them added responsibilities to handle. Without regular follow-ups, leaders may struggle to see progress across various initiatives and workers may also fail to see the meaning in their work or its impact on your organization.

So remind employees that they are accountable for their outcomes, but they also need to ask for help when they need it. This makes it clear that accountability means something in your organization, and that responsibilities can’t be deprioritized or simply shrugged off. 

It’s also worth pointing out that focusing on how to solve problems together rather than naming and blaming can help foster a more positive and inspiring work environment. Motivating your employees to improve themselves while still holding them accountable is a good way to both acknowledge progress and encourage further growth and development in the workplace.

5. Don’t avoid difficult discussions–they’re often the most important ones

It’s also the job of leadership to be willing to discuss difficult talking points with their employees. From addressing poor productivity to correcting unsatisfactory behavior, holding individuals accountable for errors they made is how you help them get better at their jobs.

While it may seem awkward or uncomfortable to have these sorts of tough conversations, it shouldn’t be. Empathetic leaders have these discussions diplomatically with their employees to find the best way forward.

Because if problematic or underperforming employees aren’t held accountable, it will cost your company. Replacing an employee is an expensive endeavor. According to a 2019 Gallup study, it costs up to 2x an exiting employee’s annual salary to hire a replacement.

While it can be difficult to acknowledge a lack of accountability either in yourself or among your workforce, know that you are not alone. Many business leaders find it hard to have productive conversations with employees regarding performance accountability.

In fact, holding others accountable, removing underperformers, and communicating clearly are among the top struggles most business leaders deal with.

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Part of holding teams accountable is conducting a blameless post-mortem to see what went right, to figure out what could have gone better, and to focus on always learning and improving (rather than trying to pin the blame on people). Project post-mortems are great at keeping everyone honest and accountable for their own contributions on complex collaborations with many moving parts.

Some of this may feel uncomfortable or even harsh at first. But as you continue to make accountability a clear, formal, and widely communicated concept in your organization, you’ll see clear and lasting cultural changes.

Accountability should come standards

Todd Crandall, Chief Financial Officer at Midwest Energy & Communications (MEC) and a long-time Synario user, has taken our platform with him everywhere he goes. Alongside tremendous forward-looking projection, financial reporting, and scenario analysis capabilities, Crandall uses Synario to build better workplace visibility and greater accountability into business processes. 

“We always have consistent data, and there’s only one version of it,” he said. “Our reports are also always accurate. Synario lets us do the consolidations between our separate lines of business so that we can look at our organization holistically.” 

With Synario, Crandall’s team is able to set monthly targets and meet regularly to review progress and adjust accordingly, allowing all parties to maintain a constant “always improving” growth mindset. 

Crandall sets benchmarks and KPIs on a monthly basis with his team, which leads to more accurate incremental analysis, more frequent team check-ins, and better organizational accountability (click here to read the case study).

“Synario is not only a financial tool to make better strategic decisions, but it’s also a tool to drive operational excellence.” –Todd Crandall, CFO at Midwest Energy & Communications

Do you think your organization could benefit from more accountability, especially when it comes to investment decisions and financial operations?