Does the phrase “workplace accountability” make you flinch? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly common for employees to report a lack of accountability at work. According to the Harvard Business Review, over 80 percent of managers admit they have little to no way to hold others accountable. They also report that a mere 14 percent of employees feel their performance is managed in a way that motivates them while 70 percent feel their managers aren’t objective in their performance evaluations. How to improve team accountability then?
With no solid accountability systems in place, employees can feel lost, confused, and demotivated. Employees can’t achieve the goals you want them to achieve if you don’t tell them what those goals are. And, with no protocol in place for when things go wrong, combined with an often unnecessarily competitive and demerit-based style of performance evaluation, employees feel constantly threatened. Imagine having to play a game, never being told the rules, then being evaluated by how well you play! Who can perform at their best under conditions like that?
Teams need accountability not just to function, but to thrive. But poor accountability systems can be worse than none at all. So, what does good team accountability look like? And what part do leaders play in holding their teams accountable?
What Good Workplace Accountability Looks Like
The main difference between good and bad workplace accountability is the timing. Accountability practices are best when they are proactive rather than reactive. That is, when leaders can get ahead of a problem to reduce its impact on productivity or eliminate it altogether. For example, regular check-ins with team members on development progress is a great way to keep an eye out for potential workflow traffic jams. If you know as soon as possible that a project is going to take a day longer than expected, it’s much easier to reallocate resources accordingly than to be blindsided by a setback. Check-ins are also a good way to keep everyone on task and on the same page.
But accountability is about more than putting out and preventing fires. Accountability is about taking responsibility for the outcomes of actions, good and bad. Celebrating wins is just as important as learning from failures! And praise is much more motivating than punishment.
Good accountability is an expression of trust. It’s about proving to your team that you own your actions and their subsequent consequences. Being accountable shows others that they can rely on you to always be working toward the greater good.
How Leaders Are The Core Of Team Accountability
Leaders are a core element when it comes to modeling good team accountability. People in management positions have power and influence. Their actions are perhaps more carefully scrutinized than those being managed. And it’s like the old adage goes: people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. When leaders aren’t or can’t be held accountable for their actions, what’s to stop them from exploiting their workers or simply sitting back and let cards fall where they may?
That’s why leadership training with an emphasis on accountability is so critical. By practicing discipline and integrity, leaders model these behaviors for the people they lead. They set the bar and make expectations clear by adhering to those expectations themselves.
Alternatively, leaders who don’t have clear expectations, or who prefer a hands-off, reactive approach to leadership, leave their teammates on their own to manage themselves and each other, which can have mixed results at best. This lack of clarity and transparency also escalates the chances of employees burning out.
Leadership is a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned, practiced, refined, and eventually mastered. Leadership development programs can help standardize your company’s expectations and fill in any knowledge gaps team leaders may have when it comes to demonstrating accountability and getting things done.
How To Improve Leadership With Mindfulness
If we could recommend only one skill to add into your leadership development program, it would be mindfulness. Mindfulness is the foundation of all other skills involved in being a good leader. Mindful people are keenly observant and are able to focus on the here and now.
If you are a leader looking to improve your mindfulness, here are our suggestions:
- Start a daily meditation practice. Mornings are an especially great time to sit for a moment and just focus on your breath. Clearing your mind before work will help you stay calm no matter what happens.
- Practice active listening. Learn to really pay attention to the things your team communicates to you, both implicitly and explicitly. When it’s hard for employees to advocate for themselves, you can be their advocate.
- Own your mistakes. There’s nothing more reassuring than knowing the world won’t end if you make a mistake. Show your team that it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you take responsibility for it and work to fix whatever might have broken as a result.
- Praise more than you punish. Hopefully, this one speaks for itself!