Guest Post by Andre Lavoie
Think back to the elementary school lunchroom. You and your classmates would be chatting loudly and swapping bags of chips when someone had the great idea to start a food fight. After the first fruit cup took flight, a few other brave kids would chuck the contents of their lunch boxes at each other. And then a teacher would show up.
“Who started this?” the teacher would yell. But no one would own up. Everyone, even those that hadn’t thrown a single piece of food, would have to miss recess and clean up the cafeteria.
For some of us, that was our first lesson in accountability. We learned that when individuals aren’t held responsible for their actions, everyone suffers.
Encouraging Employee Accountability
The same is true of employee accountability in the workplace. Unless there’s a culture in place that encourages employees to own their actions, it’s difficult to meet goals, engage employees, and develop effective leadership. Everyone’s too busy trying to make sense of the metaphorical, mystery meat stuck to the walls.
Business leaders across industries are starting to realize the importance of employee accountability at all levels. In December, Waggl released a survey on the top human capital priorities for 2016. Of the HR professionals and business leaders that participated in the survey, 73.1 percent said “leadership development throughout the field, with a strong emphasis on personal accountability” was something that needed to be focused on.
Of course, this is easier said than done. As professional grown-ups, we know it’s right to take ownership of our actions; but just like in the school cafeteria, many times our instincts tell us — and our employees — to keep our mouths shut.
But that doesn’t mean the goal is unattainable. Here are four ways to build a culture of employee accountability at all levels:
1. Start at the Top
It’s been said a million times: lead by example. If you want a company culture that fosters accountability, it has to start at the top. Yet many managers and bosses still take a subordinate’s idea and pass it off as their own. While they might not say anything, employees remember this.
In a 2015 Interact survey, 47 percent of employee respondents listed bosses that take credit for other’s ideas as a top complaint about leadership. It’s unrealistic to expect employees to hold themselves accountable for their performance when those above them don’t.
Whether it’s taking undue credit for the good or passing the buck for the bad, make it clear that accountability is expected at all levels. And recognize the upside of accountability as often as possible. Be sure that managers are acknowledged for how well their team performs, to keep everyone in check.
For example, if an employee comes up with a great idea that makes a department run more efficiently, make sure she’s acknowledged. She deserves the recognition. However, don’t forget the part a manager can play by creating and nurturing a creative environment.
When a manager’s employees continually come up with great ideas, the manager is clearly doing something right. Great leadership like that needs to be rewarded and goes a long way in encouraging accountability.
2. Measure Quality of Hire and Onboarding
All too often we ignore the importance of tracking quality of hire and onboarding. We assume if an employee makes it past a certain number of months, they were a good hire. But this directly affects employee accountability in two ways.
First, unless an organization monitors the effectiveness of its hiring and onboarding process, there’s no way to know if a new hire is receiving, understanding, and using all the information he or she needs. When left unmonitored, it becomes easy for employees to discount mistakes, long after they started working, with the “no one ever told me that” excuse.
By measuring quality of hire and onboarding, you’ll know early on if there are any gaps between training and performance. Every new employee will know what he or she needs to succeed and won’t be able to hide behind any “I’m new” excuses.
Second, tracking makes hiring managers more accountable for the choices they make. It allows you to see who’s finding the best employees and who might be hiring bad fits. Plus it creates a stronger responsibility for managers over new hires. If the employee succeeds, it’s a sign that they are also succeeding. However, if the employee doesn’t work out, it’s evidence that the manager also needs to improve.
3. Clearly Define Roles and Expectations
Clarity leads to accountability. It’s that simple. If both managers and employees are on the same page when it comes to what’s expected from employees, it’s easy for everyone to justify the actions and decisions they make.
However, Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager report found that only 12 percent of employees strongly agreed with the statement “my manager helps me set work priorities.” Only 13 percent strongly agreed that their manager helped them set performance goals.
Without an open conversation about each employee’s responsibilities and goals, it’s impossible to have employee accountability. For example, a 2015 Partners in Leadership survey found that only 25 percent of employees will tackle a problem instead of assuming it’s someone else’s job. Clear roles and expectations eliminate this issue.
4. Make Training and Information Easily Accessible
Employees want a more personalized approach when it comes to their training. In a 2015 Intercall survey, 48 percent of employees said they wanted training more customized to their position and 47 percent said they wanted to be able to go through the material at their own pace.
By letting employees choose when and what training they want to go through, they have more control and autonomy over their position and development. This leads to more accountability about their performance and career path. If they want to advance, it’s completely in their power. Giving employees access to the resources and information they need empowers them. And if an employee chooses not to use the training available, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Employee accountability is a funny thing. It benefits the entire company once it’s implemented, but no one person thinks it’s their job to take the first steps to change the culture. It’s up to employers and leaders to set the example and let employees know that being held accountable is for the best.
What other steps are important when creating a culture of employee accountability?
Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, the talent management solution that helps companies identify, hire and retain more A Players. You can connect with him and the ClearCompany team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.