Sometimes the prospect of being held accountable makes people feel fearful that they will be judged, found wanting and punished. In reality, when leaders ensure accountability at every level of an organization, including themselves, workplace morale improves.
What do we mean by accountability? Here are some definitions:
- BusinessDictionary.com: “Obligation of an individual, firm or institution to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner.”
- Answers.com: “The obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected.”
- Wikipedia: “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 of 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 he or she 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 (above).
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 expectations.
The employee must understand the reasons for the established standards and be willing to abide by them.
Fully equip an employee to perform up to the established standards.
Functional equipment, technology and supplies.
These enable the employee to perform up to the established standards.
An employee must understand what will happen if the standards are not met.
The supervisor needs to follow through to see if the employee’s performance meets the established standards.
The supervisor must offer a performance review.
This means 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) consequences, based on performance.
It is reassuring to operate in an environment in which someone is paying attention, where poor performance is not tolerated and good performance is recognized. In such an environment, people can take pride in their work. Rather than fearing accountability, we should embrace it.