Elements of Accountability

Shawnee Love   •  
December 4, 2015

A few weeks ago, I blogged on the value of mandate letters in creating accountability. Today, I want to dive into accountability and explore the elements necessary to create it in organizations.

Accountability is knowing you can count on someone.  In practice it means he (or she) will do what he says he will when he says he will do it. If he can’t, he will own up (usually with an apology) and come with a solution to do the next best thing he can.

To have accountability on a team, I believe the following must be present:

  • An accountable manager: You as manager must be the role model for the accountability you expect from your staff.  If they can’t count on you, it significantly reduces the likelihood you will be able to count on them.
  • Employees of good character:  You’ve heard me speak before about the importance of ethics and integrity.  It is key to accountability too.  I generally believe you have to give trust and respect to receive it, but even if you give it, you may not get it in return if the people you hire don’t have it in their character.  Hire well, and you have already won half the battle.
  • Understanding of what the company and team are trying to achieve:  Not only do you need a good orientation program, but you also need ongoing (and ideally continuous) methods of communicating and updating your people.
  • Role Clarity:  Employees need to know what their role is and how they can contribute to the organization’s vision and mission.  A well written job description and excellent communication (again) are necessary.
  • Goals & metrics: As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.  To be accountable, people need to know what they are accountable for in a measurable context.  Those mandate letters did this beautifully.
  • Recognition & rewards:  When your people follow through, to encourage more of the same, recognition and rewards are the tools of choice. Better to catch your people being accountable than having to punish for dropping balls.
  • Follow up & follow through:  As a manager, you must address problematic behaviours when they occur.  If you fail to hold people accountable it will create perceptions of unfairness and feelings of “why bother” among other team members. Those morale eroding thoughts also contribute to further accountability breakdown- it’s a vicious cycle.

Team accountability rests with the manager, but to have organization-wide accountability, you need HR practices which support accountability.  Do yours?