Resurrecting Accountability in the Workplace.

Today’s workplace seems to be experiencing an accountability drought and high performing businesses may just start to see their bottom line eroding away. The elements that bind together and overflow into a culture of accountability, that is sincerity, communication, ownership and rewards, are losing their importance. Question - what are management teams doing to turn the tide around? In this article we share with you some simple suggestions to resurrect accountability in your workplace and boost productivity.

DECEMBER 2012 • Tsuwa Thompson

In This Article

To hold someone accountable some factors must equally hold true. When a task is given to an individual, we should not demand for a sense of responsibility and/or ownership unless we educate the person, provide needed resources and empower the individual to execute the task. Accountability starts when we hand over a task, a responsibility, to someone along with clear and simple instructions on how to execute the same and empower the individual with the space, time and resources to deliver the ‘goods’.

On the West African shore so many people, customers, shareholders, employees, employers, and more are complaining of the apparent absence of accountability in the workplace. What has gone wrong? How did the concept of accountability get lost in the archives of the minds of employees? Is there a way West African country’s labour law says “equal pay for equal work”. So I ask, why should an employee fail to ask for work, the guidelines and the resources required for the work but is willing to collect a pay cheque at the end of the month. CEOs should champion the documentation of all work ‘guidelines’ and ensure that they are communicated to staff regularly if accountability is to see the light of day.

The management team should start to tell itself the truth. Statement like 'we will get by', will not cut it. 'This year's numbers are great' some say; imagine what they would be if there was a greater sense of ownership from the CEO's office right down to the gardener's shed. John Kotter in his book titled 'Leading Change' said that the first step to real change is creating a sense of urgency. If you are comfortable with mediocrity, or just the good, better, and best levels of performance, don't expect today's greatness and/or your number one or number two status to last for too long. What is the truth? The level of accountability in the minds and hearts of members of staff is far from hitting the critical mass that will catapult many an organisation into a profitable and sustainable future. So how does the management team confirm whether they are suffering such a fate? Run an employee engagement survey and get a feel of the vibes in the office. There's so much that can be done if managers really want to know and face the truth.

Management should walk the talk. 'Proof of the pudding is in the eating'. "By their fruits you shall know them". There are so many idioms or wise sayings that can loosely be translated as saying we will believe when we see real results. What is the example being laid down by today's manager? When managers consistently arrive late to the office or take extended lunch breaks how can they hold their team members accountable for breaching company policy? Manager A demands for speedy delivery of tasks but fails to respond to his/her team's cries for support and feedback on ongoing projects. His/her actions are killing any form of accountability that exists in the office. It has been said in literature that managers are the main reason employees leave firms; imagine how bad this could get where accountability is being used for target practice on a shooting range. Do a 360 degree assessment of the management team – let your people talk and then use the data to help your managers stay on the right side of accountability.

All employees should be given clear job guidelines. Maybe this suggestion is asking for too much but without it there will be no accountability. How do you assess performance when there is no job description? Can you sanction a worker for supposedly cutting corners when there is no procedure in place? The onus of setting job guidelines rests on management while that of execution is the employee's. Kaplan and Norton have been quoted as saying "you can't measure what you can't describe". In so many companies today members of staff feign ignorance of company guidelines and hope to get off with a slap on the wrist. Employees need to understand that 'ignorance' is not an excuse for failing to deliver. I have heard and seen where an employee is quick to say 'I didn't know', 'I can't remember' or some other flimsy reason for not executing a task. Managers really need to embrace an email culture as opposed to one of verbal directions to reduce incidents of amnesia. A West African country's labour law says "equal pay for equal work". So I ask, why should an employee fail to ask for work, the guidelines and the resources required for the work but is willing to collect a pay cheque at the end of the month. CEOs should champion the documentation of all work 'guidelines' and ensure that they are communicated to staff regularly if accountability is to see the light of day.

Managers should 'talk' and start to give their teams feedback. It seems like a lot of managers are angry with their teams because 'the silent treatment' is normally only dished out to those we are angry or unhappy with. Coming down to earth, managers fail to communicate effectively with their people. At the end of the day employees spend so much time second guessing what they should be doing and that's for those who are committed. Little or no feedback is given on tasks executed and a young officer goes home wondering if he or she is doing well, average or about to be kicked out of the company. People will experience difficulty in holding themselves to higher standards of professionalism if their leaders do not support them through feedback. It's time managers start to help their teams manage their performance. The manager must monitor, evaluate, and advice periodically (monthly at a minimum), along with appropriate and timely coaching and/or mentoring interventions to keep accountability levels bubbling. One way CEOs can refresh and revive accountability in their direct reports is through annual workshops that focus on leadership and performance management.

Everyone should say 'no' to recalcitrant and disengaged employees. Light always out shines darkness. Disengaged employees thrive in an atmosphere of negativity that's void of accountability. A revamped culture and values system that translates the workplace into one where there is consistent and diligent execution of set targets and where nearly everyone is pursuing the corporate vision is the last place such employees want to be. Anyone should be able to say 'that's not good enough' when they see something or someone going down the wrong path. Sooner than later such employees change their ways, choose to exit the organisation voluntarily or are shown the door. Put in place measures (coaching, mentoring sessions, training, special assignments etc.) to encourage and support employees that choose accountability.

Management should reward behaviour that supports the company's values. The right values system will allow accountability to thrive if it's nurtured and entrenched in an organisation. This suggestion presupposes that the values in question are not inhibitory to accountability. While every single employee effectively defines whether or not the values written on paper actually permeate and influence the day to day thinking and behaviour in the organisation, it is the management team's core responsibility to ensure all staff embrace and live out the company's values. So managers need to communicate the values whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. More importantly, they need to be reflections of the value system for all to see and emulate. But it doesn't end there. The management team needs to commend and reward members of staff who not only live the values but encourage and support others in doing so. It should not be enough to score an 'A' in just operational business objectives appraisals while disregarding the values system or cutting corners and not adhering to policy. Team members must also excel in the targets that are tied to living out the company's values. Managers should openly commend employees who walk the talk and sanction those that stray from the path. Performance management systems should be aligned to ensure staff are rewarded for upholding company values. Committees handling the disbursement of bonuses and other awards should factor this in their deliberations. The bottom line is simple; employees will not value what management treats with levity and reward schemes are a good indication of what management really cares about.

So there are some suggestions on resurrecting accountability with a tip or two of what your organisation could do next. A word of caution – these suggestions and any others will not be a walk in the park. To demand higher levels of accountability means to demand change and to demand change means to support those going through the change. A solid change management plan needs to be put in place to ensure your success and above all you need to communicate with your employees any opportunity you get. I leave you with three quotes from three gentlemen who understand a thing or two about accountability.

“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” David Brin

Each day you are leading by example. Whether you realize it or not or whether it's positive or negative, you are influencing those around you.” Rob Liano

“The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.” Steve Maraboli


About the Author

Tsuwa Thompson is the Chief Executive Officer of RtHE Consult