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5 Steps to Building Accountability in the Workplace

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In my 30 years of working with businesses, I have found there are two problems every organization struggles with. Poor communication and lack of accountability. I don’t care about the size of the company, the industry, or the location. 

Improving communications can be very complex. But if you follow these five simple steps, I am confident you will significantly increase the levels of accountability in your company.

Accountability Unleashed: The Five-Step Blueprint for Accountability in the Workplace

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1. 100% Clarity + Authority and Resources

The first step in establishing accountability is to have a one-on-one with the person who will be held accountable. The goal of this discussion is to ensure that you have 100% clarity on the expectations, the measures of success, the timeline, and any other essential information. This is critical. 

You must create specific, measurable, binary goals that are entirely unambiguous. No guessing. 

Next, you must make sure that the person has the appropriate authority and all the needed resources to deliver the results you're requesting of them. Giving someone 100% accountability and but no authority or the necessary resources is a recipe for frustration and failure. There is no employee accountability without employee engagement. 

2. 100% Agreement.

After you have taken the time to set goals and explain your expectations very clearly, you must get that person to tell you, "I understand the measurements, the metrics, the timeline, and the resources available to me. You have given me the authority I need to accomplish this. I believe it is a reasonable goal, and I accept full accountability.”

There is no foundation for creating clear employee accountability until you do these first two steps. Interestingly, when I teach these ideas, I ask every audience: "On your most important projects, the ones that must be completed. How many of you would score yourself a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale for always gaining 100% clarity and agreement on your most critical projects?" 

Out of nearly 10,000 people so far, the answer is… zero! Think of wasted money, lost market share, lost profits—the numbers are enormous, which is why creating an organization with high levels of accountability is so incredibly vital.

3. Track & Post.

After setting clear benchmarks and securing complete consensus, monitoring crucial metrics is imperative. This is a key part in connecting accountability with performance management.

Develop a dashboard that shows everyone's progress toward their primary goals. The data should be straightforward and easily visible whether you opt for a whiteboard, digital display, or other platforms. 

Most of my clients use a simple Green–Yellow–Red system. 

  • Green = you're doing great.
  • Yellow = you are falling a little bit behind. 
  • Red = the situation is serious. You are falling very far behind. 

Everyone should have instant access to their performance status, so they know exactly where they stand.

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4. Coach, Mentor and Train.

Here's what you'll find out about tracking. A small percentage of your team will love it. Those are your superstars who will always be meeting or beating their goals. They are happy to be tracked because they're always in green.

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps 10% of your organization will fall on the ground and start crying, kicking, and screaming—begging you not to track their work. These folks will never like being monitored because it will show everyone in the organization that they are mediocre or worse. My suggestion would be to make these folks "available to industry."

This now leaves a huge group in the middle that doesn't know what to make of suddenly being tracked. The key is to help these people understand that you are not tracking them to punish them. You are tracking them, so the minute they face difficulty and begin to slip, you will be there to catch them and support them with help, training, coaching, mentoring, and resources. They will welcome the system with open arms once they understand that tracking equals support and assistance.

5. Reward Success Lavishly/Deal Decisively with Mediocrity.

Give the people who stay in green lots of praise, recognition, and rewards. I'm not saying throw cash at them. Still, you need to reinforce positive behavior and show everyone in the company that if you deliver what you are accountable for, you will be rewarded.

In cultivating a work environment centered around accountability and clarity, employers might fear that terminating employees could potentially inflict more harm than good upon the company culture and employee morale within the workplace.

In real fact, keeping an employee who consistently underperforms and delivers mediocre results could do more damage than good for your working relationships. When there exists a clear culture of accountability and transparency, other team members are likely to comprehend the rationale behind such actions, provided that expectations have been clearly communicated. It's imperative for employers to address poor performance by demonstrating accountability.

For those who could not get out of red and were asked to leave the organization, the rest of the team will understand that you established clarity on what they were accountable for. Through your culture of accountability, you gave them the necessary authority, got agreement from them, tracked their progress, and gave them lots of help before letting them go. 

It tells everyone else that if they fall behind, you will make every possible effort to get them back in green. Again, this makes them appreciate the tracking because they understand it is a tool to help them be successful, not a way for you to punish them.

Unleashing the Potential of Your Organization

How often do you conduct one-on-one performance reviews with your team? Providing regular performance feedback to every employee is a critical part of effective leadership.

 If you’d like to learn more about maximizing performance through business leadership coaching, connect with us or consider attending one of our upcoming leadership events.

John Spence

John Spence