It’s safe to say the best employers want to foster a culture of accountability in the workplace. Those who don’t, don’t usually stay employers for very long. Accountability in business can, though, sometimes feel like an unattainable standard, a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel full of HR nightmares and employees that do more damage than they do good to your company.
So how does one go about changing the culture of a workplace? (Here you can read about organizational design) If you sense that organizational accountability is lacking, how do you improve it?
Accountability = Policy?
The easy and most obvious answer is the lazy employer’s go-to: policy. If you locate a trouble spot where employees routinely cut corners, tensions can run high. You might be tempted to slap a sternly-worded sign on the water cooler or elevator door. You might even use an angry emoji, because cutting corners is stealing and employees should know better.
But Henry Browning asserts in his article published on Forbes.com, “it’s not about punishment.” Policy changes are not evil, and they don’t make you the bad guy. If a policy change needs to be made in order to improve accountability in the workplace, make that change. But be mindful of how you present it. Marketing applies to your employees as well as your customers, so present the change in a way that fosters cooperation. And, don’t be the boss that hides behind her office door and lets a sign take care of her tough conversations. That only separates you from the culture you’re attempting to create, and generates fear.
Accountability in the workplace: Opportunity to Come Clean
Sometimes, accountability in the workplace is lacking because employees aren’t appropriately equipped to complete their tasks to the standard requested. Give your employees the benefit of the doubt and ask questions instead of pointing fingers. When they answer, ask clarifying questions. Give them a chance to explain themselves, and then ask them what they think could be done to improve the situation. They do their job every day. If they are trying to slip something by unnoticed, chances are there’s a solution they’ve already thought of. If only we had xyz available, that would make my job that much easier.
Work with your employees on the solution to foster a sense of unity, camaraderie, and accountability as a group. The existence of this open-door policy will definitely get passed around the workplace, and build up your reputation as reasonable.
Sometimes, the ball gets dropped when it’s not clear who is responsible for a specific task (Do you prioritize your team’s tasks? Do you simplificate their job?). You may ask a group of employees who got the latest shipment archived in the logging software and get a ring of people with that “deer in the headlights” look. Meet these situations with graciousness and a willingness to work together to assign a responsible party.
Everyone. No exceptions.
The word “culture” is defined by Google as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group,” but I like the verb form as well. “To culture” means to “maintain in conditions suitable for growth.” Isn’t that what we all want for our organization accountability? That means everyone is subjected to the same policies, and everyone is measured in some way.
Shellye Archambeau of Xconomy emphasizes how important this is, especially for startup companies and smaller businesses. She uses the example of David Bloom, the CEO of a smaller startup, who uses video chatting software to meet with each employee face to face every morning to get a status report and a glance into what they have planned for the day.
This might seem a little like overdoing it, but it isn’t. A major part of fostering a culture of accountability in the workplace is giving your employees the space to demonstrate that accountability and integrity. If they feel as though you are constantly breathing down their necks, they will feel you don’t trust them, and that perhaps you expect them to fail. Don’t let that be you.
The employees met once a day and then had the freedom to make good on their statements for the rest of the workday. That’s accountability in practice, and it makes for a happier, more unified team.
Accountability = You!
At the end of the day, accountability is a two-way street. If you expect certain behaviors and responsibilities out of your employees, you volunteer to take those on yourself as well. This is the cornerstone of being a team player. If you are seeking to make your employees into a team that pushes each other towards excellence, you have to make yourself a part of that team too. It all starts with you! Positive, healthy office culture trickles down from the culture you establish for yourself.
Once your culture of accountability is established, social order will help maintain it for you. Groups of people tend to maintain a certain standard of behavior. When someone new comes into the group (i.e., a new employee), they have to learn the pecking order and gain an understanding of the culture, or risk being ostracized. When employees are comfortable with the status quo, and with an accountable workplace and an approachable boss, they will be quick to shoot down insurgents – and then you don’t have to.
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