“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” — Thomas Paine, American Founding Father.
“Corporations are like protean bacteria; you hit them with accountability and they mutate and change their names.” — Doug Anderson, American writer.
Have you ever asked your spouse or a friend the rhetorical question, “Whatever happened to accountability?” When both business and government seem determined to rescue the worst wrongdoers from the consequences of their actions at our expense, many of us are left asking this very question.
Remember the AIG banking fiasco of 2008? Did the perpetrators suffer for their greed? AIG posted a fourth-quarter loss of $62 billion—the largest in history—and received a huge government bailout check as a prize. Immediately following, it 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. 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 purposeful, your team members will voluntarily assume accountability for their actions.
Consider these tips as you lay your accountability foundation.
1. Communicate Clearly. Your team members 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 direct reports 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 with rewards and explaining the real-world consequences of team 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 folks. When someone needs training, tools, or resources to do their job better, make it happen. Don’t absent yourself from their workflow, but step back and let them do their jobs as they think best. Trust people to do their jobs and be the cheerleader and visionary. Let the team determine the best way to follow through and step in only when you must.
4. Provide Metrics. Your team needs “gauges” to check how well you’re doing, so regularly provide performance metrics for everything that matters, and hold them accountable for those metrics. 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—in the presence of their peers—so they feel an inner glow of achievement that drives them to keep it up.
5. 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.
The Final Equation
I’m not advising you to micromanage your workers; far from it. But most people simply perform better when you monitor them and hold them accountable for their actions. 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.