You Reap What You Sow: Creating an Environment of Accountability

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” — Thomas Paine, American Founding Father.

“Corporations are like bacteria; you hit them with accountability and they mutate and change their names.” — Doug Anderson, American writer.

You Reap What You Sow:  Creating an Environment of Accountability  by Laura Stack #productivity

Have you ever looked around and wondered, “Whatever happened to accountability?” Many of us have, especially when both business and government seem determined to rescue the worst troublemakers from the consequences of their actions at our expense.

Remember the banking fiasco of 2008? Do you suppose any of the perpetrators suffered for their self-indulgence? Well, consider this: Immediately upon receiving a huge government bailout check, AIG—which posted a fourth-quarter loss of $62 billion, the largest in history—awarded enormous bonuses to the very people who forced the bailout. (To be fair, 15 of the 20 highest-paid execs eventually agreed to return their bonuses.)

In real life, you reap what you sow…and someday we’ll all remember that. So why not jump the line and create a culture of accountability in your workplace right now? You don’t have to be ruthless to instill and enforce accountability. In fact, if you’re careful, you can work it so your people voluntarily assume accountability for their actions.

Consider these principles as you lay your new accountability foundation.

1. Communicate Clearly. Your workers can’t align their workplace efforts with organizational strategy if they don’t know the strategy. So take the initiative and explain, in plain language, the company’s goals to everyone involved.

2. Set Expectations. Tell your workers precisely what you expect of them. Show them how their efforts move the organization forward and why positive productivity matters. Then clarify your performance guidelines and encourage them to meet specific goals, motivating them not just with rewards, but also with the real-world consequences of failure.

3. Empower Everyone. Most employees “rent” their jobs: they show up and go through the motions, working for the weekend. By contrast, productive workers “own” their jobs. They know why and how their contributions matter. They know they can take initiative to improve productivity without fear of reprisal. Make this point very clear to your people; and when someone needs training, tools, or continuing education to do their job better, make sure they have those things. Don’t absent yourself from their workflow, but step back and let them do their jobs as they think best. After all, your duty is to issue orders and let your Deputies figure out the best way to follow through. Step in only when you must.

4. Provide Metrics. Your people need “gauges” to check how well they’re doing, so regularly provide performance metrics for everything that matters. Hold employees accountable for those metrics.

5. Communicate. Give feedback, positive and negative. Never dress people down in public, but let them know when they fail to meet your expectations. When they exceed your expectations, let them know that, too—and do so in the presence of their peers, so they feel an inner glow of achievement that drives them to keep it up.

6. Inspire. Make your people proud of your leadership. Practice what you preach. Be equitable with everyone: don’t apply different standards to different individuals beyond what’s necessary based on the differences in their duties. Be a good role model and behave in ways you ask of them.

The Final Equation

I’m not advising you to micromanage your workers; far from it. But most people simply perform better when you hold them accountable for their results. That said, don’t make it too hard for them to accept accountability—especially since, given our tradition of complacency, you may find it hard to instill the concept of personal accountability in the first place.

Don’t give up. With enough effort and the right tools, you can eventually build a voluntary culture of accountability where you don’t have to ride people to get them to do the right things at the right times.

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