7 Ways to Promote a Company Culture of Accountability One of the trickier leadership tasks is holding others accountable: Proven techniques for creating an environment in which that dynamic thrives.
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A 2012 survey published in the Harvard Business Review found that 46% of upper-level managers do too little to hold people accountable, and The Predictive Index's 2019 CEO Benchmarking Report revealed that 18% of even high-level executives claim they struggle with that task. The good news is that there are simple steps that can remove this roadblock to growth — that can transform a team-based work environment to one in which honest reporting and answerability are baked in.
1. Set the example
The simple but unavoidable first truth here is that it will be impossible to enforce accountability if you fail to model that characteristic. Only frustration will be created if your employees are being held to a higher standard than yours.
There are numerous ways to do this, such as showing up for every meeting prepared and on time, never missing deadlines and always following through when employees need additional support.
It's also important to encourage a team to call you out if you aren't sticking to commitments. The trick is to receive such feedback (as difficult as it may be to hear) with both willingness and an open mind. Always admit when you mess up or can do better.
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2. Clear goals and expectations
A 2022 survey by thought leader Anne Loehr found that a stunning 93% of employees "…don't really understand what their organization is trying to accomplish to align with their own work," and that 85% of leaders aren't properly defining what their teams should be working on.
So, make a point of creating clear goals for every member of a work group, and since each person likely has different responsibilities, they will need to be tailored. The SMART methodology can help ensure that they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. That last quality is especially important: It's vital to make plain when tasks need to be completed.
Additionally, letting employees participate in goal setting can be extremely effective. It's much easier to hold people accountable for rules they committed to and created for themselves.
3. Avoid micromanagement
This approach is often particularly challenging for entrepreneurs who've become accustomed to doing everything on their own. As a company grows and needs additional resources, it can be hard to let go and trust others to complete tasks.
Such anxiety can be easily avoided, however, by setting clear expectations on when tasks need to be completed and when updates should be provided. Try to avoid asking for updates too frequently (such as daily), however, and also fight the urge to check in outside of an agreed-upon schedule.
4. Encourage employees to create their own solutions
When people run into challenges, their first thought is usually to check in with their boss on how to proceed, which can create a loophole in which employees shift accountability forever upward. And that works both ways: Too many leaders fall into the trap of always being the person who solves a team's problems.
Instead, when an employee runs into an issue they don't know how to resolve, have them first come up with one or two recommendations themselves. In many cases, they will answer their own question. And if they still need you to make a final decision, you'll be able to do it faster by having already proposed solutions among your options.
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5. Provide necessary resources
It's hard to hold people accountable for work when we set them up for failure. Employees who don't have the appropriate resources, tools or training can always use that as an excuse, and it's a reasonable one. So, as a leader, it's important to create an environment in which they are platformed for success.
6. Leverage technology
Technology, including data management, can streamline and improve accountability. Clear numbers are easier to enforce since they are objective and not tied to the opinions of a supervisor. Creating a KPI scorecard can be an easy way to show a team where it has "passed" or "failed." Plus, automated technology can be used to further boost accountability through processes like completion rate analysis or GPS tracking for fleet vehicles.
Related: Smart Entrepreneurs Use Automation to Become More Efficient. Here Are 6 Ways to Adopt It.
7. Address performance issues quickly
Having difficult conversations is one of the most challenging parts of managing people. When you see someone who isn't meeting expectations, it's critical to address the matter quickly. Waiting too long makes it difficult to remedy a situation, and could encourage them to further miss the accountability mark. The good news is that, in many cases, an employee can be put back on track with a simple conversation. That said, if challenges persist, you may need to evaluate whether they are the right fit.
Finally, while accountability issues should certainly be addressed, don't forget to also celebrate and reward those who are role models. Showing that there are both consequences and rewards tied to a team's performance is an indispensable tool for fostering a culture of ownership.