Redefining Systems for Employee Accountability

CoachHub · 9 August 2023 · 7 min read

Organisations often have inter-connected and complex operations and employees are expected to understand the importance of accountability as per their assigned responsibilities. However, where employees are expected to ‘get the job done’, it’s typical to find some doing sub-par work or not being up to date on assigned tasks by the agreed deadlines. Getting most to be accountable for their responsibilities has proved to be challenging for many leaders and this has made it important for organisations to redefine how they approach employee accountability.

Weak methods of demanding accountability—micromanaging and consequence-driven instructions—have contributed to a huge disconnect in the workplace, leading to a steady decline in employee engagement in recent times. Since accountability is critical to successful work outcomes, how can workplace leaders foster trust and make accountability less dreadful for employees?

In this article, we explore—what is employee accountability, examples, weak accountability systems and win-win approaches to achieving workplace accountability.

What is employee accountability?

In a work setting, the employee accountability definition describes the approach used to identify who is responsible for what, and the obligation of such individuals to report back on the deliverables to the appropriate person. It involves the process of evaluating, assessing, and affirming the contribution of employees on assigned responsibilities by addressing challenges and giving feedback on how the work could be improved.

Ideally, employees are to give updates on existing tasks and receive appraisal on current performance and next steps from their direct reports. However, accountability isn’t always vertical or hierarchical. It may be horizontal, such that it can exist between colleagues. For instance, a person who is part of a team will be accountable to give updates on their deliverables to the team members. It makes the job quicker and easy to spot challenges that could clog the team’s progress.

Employee accountability in the workplace thrives on a sense of personal accountability. Each person must understand their roles in the internal processes—how not meeting up can create problems for others and recognise their ability to fix whatever problem they might have created.

employee accountability

The problem with weak accountability systems

Organisations use various methods to monitor employees, as a means to enforce accountability in the workplace. The demand for employee monitoring tools also doubled after the pandemic. While productivity tracking tools—biometrics, screen time and retina monitors and performance-based metrics—may seem to provide some productivity benefits, they’ve not been the perfect solution to encourage accountability amongst employees.

Over time, these systems have connoted forced compliance and a lack of employer-employee trust. Eventually, employees begin to feel less responsible for their actions and tend to break rules. Many workplace leaders agree that they find holding others accountable challenging. This implies that whatever methods have been previously applied in enforcing accountability have proved ineffective. Managers must understand that employees are real people with unique experiences on the job and trying to coerce them into being accountable using some automated methods will only compound the problems.

Weak accountability systems must be abandoned for a newer, different approach. In a survey, as high as 70% of respondents agreed that their managers aren’t objective in their performance evaluation. This means there’s a gap between expectation and performance. This accountability gap puts a workplace at a high risk of job turnover and can lead to a lack of job satisfaction among employees.

Does that mean employers should disregard demanding accountability from employees? Absolutely not. Where a lack of accountability exists, it breeds an air of negatives that can affect the work culture. Some of the effects of a lack of accountability include:

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Defining a newer approach to accountability

In light of the problems that a lack of accountability breeds, there’s a need to define a newer approach to fostering employee accountability. Employees are motivated to give it all in an environment where their views are respected and their creativity is appreciated. Here are ways millennials work leaders can improve workplace accountability without breaching employee trust.

Determine goals and deadlines together:

If expectations are not clear, it’s hard to expect employees to be accountable. Determine the goals and the set objectives required to achieve them. The best way to do this is to agree on what the deliverables are and the timelines to deliver them, together. This way, everyone is clear on what’s expected of them, the frequency of progress updates and the required outcomes. Using mnemonics can also make it easier to recollect agreed goals and the timelines set to achieve them.

Stay true to your values:

As an employee or manager, you’re at the frontline and your direct reports take the cue from how you choose to handle situations. If you’re likely to act differently from what you say, you can expect that they’re bound to take you less seriously over time. Also, the level of trust diminishes and subconsciously it becomes difficult to stay accountable to you. The best way to stay true to your values is to align your actions to them and the identity you’re projecting. As much as you expect your employees to stay accountable to you, you also have an obligation to be accountable at work if need be. They need to know when there’s a change of plans that will affect the agreed timeline and you have to be open about why it had to be.

Share feedback with empathy:

Your approach to feedback is very important as it can affect your team members’ morale significantly. You must acknowledge the effort that they put into the work while giving feedback on whatever aspect needs to be improved upon. Once the atmosphere allows employees to explore their creative side in problem-solving, you’re bound to have employees who are excited to be accountable and happy to share their process each step of the way.

This deepens the sense of connection between managers and colleagues and promotes a sense of psychological safety where employees can share their views without fear of being judged. Be ready to separate employees’ personalities from the mistakes they make on the job while addressing them with utmost patience and grace.

Invest in employee training and coaching:

Accountability is an offshoot of employee engagement. This can be bolstered by investing in employee training and coaching. Training is important to equip employees to function optimally in their roles and contribute to overall organisational growth.

Personalised coaching for workplace leaders and employees also helps to build a thriving workplace. Leaders are equipped with the needed interpersonal skills to effectively manage and relate with subordinates, in a way that fosters trust and mutual respect. Employees are also coached based on a behavioural framework that equips them to thrive in their jobs. They learn to relate with other employees with dignity and develop an outlook on the job that prioritises and understands the need for accountability at work.

Focus on the big picture, be ready to solve not blame:

From time to time, employees may run into challenges that make you or them doubt their competence. This is not the time to throw around blame in a way that shames the individual or speaks in harsh tones. Analyse the problem to find where it fell short of the desired goal, and ask your employees how they’ll prefer to fix the problem to get things back on track. Once the big picture is in sight, people are less concerned about hiding their shortcomings. Rather, they are confident in owning up to it and willing to remedy it in the best way possible.

employee accountability

What are some employee accountability examples?

Accountability expectations vary in different organisations, but here are some common examples to work with.

  • Willingness to own up to fault when it could easily be blamed on someone else.
  • Showing up early and prepared for meetings shows you respect the time of others.
  • Readiness to speak up on challenges and task blockers.
  • Taking practical steps to think of ways to fix problems before tabling them before your colleagues or team leads to fix them.
  • Readiness to help and go the extra mile when subordinates report challenges.
  • Not personalising criticism when giving or receiving it. Criticism should be constructive and applicable to achieve the desired outcome.


Final words…

It’s not enough to expect employees to be accountable, employers must go the extra mile to ensure that employees feel connected to the ‘why’ of the organisation. This breeds ‘a sense of connectedness’ where everyone sees their roles as valuable and understand how their contribution helps to achieve the organisational goal. Managers and leaders must seek to replace automated approaches to monitoring employees with more humane approaches that help them to feel psychologically safe enough to be accountable. Where previous methods have already created disconnect and distrust, investing in coaching for leaders and employees can help to address the issues and improve accountability.

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Samuel Olawole

Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specialises in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him travelling or listening to good music.

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