Got Accountability?

Workplace accountability is a popular topic in business literature these days, and for good reason. Lack of accountability is costly, both in terms of resources and relationships. When the management team has a “Do what I say, not what I do” philosophy, good people leave. The ones that stay spend half their time complaining to each other and their managers about how unfairly they’re treated.

Why do so few organizations achieve an accountable workplace culture? They don’t have the right people on board.

Define Accountability

First, let’s define what accountability really means. You may think of it as:

  • The employee takes responsibility for actions, and accepts consequences for not taking correct actions.
  • The boss judges employees’ actions, and disciplines employees when necessary.

It’s a big problem when the definition starts and stops here. True accountability, what we call personal accountability, motivates people to do the right thing even when no one is monitoring. It begins with a commitment to:

  • Live shared values
  • Work toward a shared mission and vision
  • Inspire others to demonstrate their commitment and loyalty

Focus on the Right People

The right people are the ones who have personal accountability. Many companies spend plenty of time and energy controlling and monitoring the wrong people. They think if they control or monitor enough, the wrong people will do the right thing.

They spend more time on controlling and disciplining than they do on hiring and developing the right people. This is a completely backwards way of doing business! If you haven’t already done the math yourself, I’ll tell you why:

  • Spending too much time on the wrong people means you don’t have time to focus on developing the right people. But it’s the right people who give you more bang for your buck!
  • You can be so much more efficient as a company, and accomplish so much more, if you can trust everyone on your team to do the right thing.
  • The right people are personally accountable and appreciate others who are accountable. Everyone’s relationships and morale are stronger. 

Hire and Fire Based on Personal Accountability

To create an accountable workplace, you must first consistently follow a hiring protocol that is in alignment with your vision, mission, purpose, and core values. Look for people who:

  • Self-identify with your core values
  • Are passionate about their roles
  • Are committed to working toward your vision

Ask behavior-based questions in the interview rather than questions that point candidates toward the “right answer.” For example, “Tell me about a time at work when you felt you were treated unfairly. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?”

The behavior-based question reveals much more about a candidate than, “What would you do if you felt you were being treated unfairly on the job?” This question requires the candidate to simply give a generic answer about a hypothetical situation, which may or may not reflect his or her real behavior on the job.

Second, have the courage to get rid of the wrong people–the ones who lack personal accountability. It may sound like a tough policy, but keeping the wrong people does a disservice to you, your team, and even the person who doesn’t fit. Just because that person is wrong for your company doesn’t mean the person is a bad person. This same individual may be a good fit, and feel more successful, someplace else.

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