We hear a lot in the workplace and in society about the need for accountability. What do we mean by accountability? Some definitions:
“Obligation of an individual, firm or institution to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.”
“The obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected.”
“A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct.”
All these definitions imply that an individual or group holds others accountable. In the workplace, that person is the supervisor.
First, the supervisor has to make sure the employee understands and agrees with expectations. Then, the supervisor must provide training and resources for the employee to do the job. After that comes a follow up with the employee to assess performance. Finally, the supervisor must give feedback and ensure that the employee receives meaningful consequences—positive or negative—for performance. At this point the supervisor needs to remind the employee about and clarify the expectations for the future.
I like to show this process as a diagram:
The Accountability Loop demonstrates that certain conditions must be in place before a supervisor can hold an employee accountable for performance. These conditions are:
- Clarity of expectations. The employee must understand the established standards for acceptable work.
- Agreement on those expectations. The employee must understand the reasons for the established standards and be willing to abide by them.
- Thorough training that fully equips the employee to perform up to the established standards.
- Functional equipment, technology and supplies that enable the employee to perform up to the established standards
- An understanding of what happens if the standards are not met—the consequences for inadequate performance
- Follow-up on the part of the supervisor to see if the employee’s performance meets the established standards
- Feedback from the supervisor on performance
- Meaningful consequences, both positive (praise, more autonomy, more responsibility, promotion, pay raise, bonus) and negative (constructive criticism, closer supervision, less responsibility, warnings, withholding of pay increase, termination), for performance
In the coming weeks in our blog, the CDS Consulting Co-op HR Team will provide insights into how employers can ensure the conditions for accountability throughout their organizations.
What would you like us to address? We welcome your comments.
Carolee Colter started her career working for a natural foods co-op distributor in 1973. She has helped hundreds of co-ops and independent retailers with management training, employee surveys and HR systems, and is part of the CDS Consulting Co-op HR Team.