How is accountability defined in the workplace?
Accountability is a crucial element of every high-functioning workplace. Accountability in the workplace has a clear correlation with higher performance, and research by the US Office of Personnel Management has also indicated that it leads to heightened capability, increased dedication to the role, boosted morale, and higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Accountability also fosters innovation as staff members become more invested in the company going forward.
Nevertheless, studies have shown that there is quite a deficiency of accountability in most workplaces. A survey conducted by AMA Enterprise saw that 21% of those interviewed saw their workforce consisting almost half of ‘unaccountable employees’. So, what is workplace accountability, why is it important, and how do you foster it?
What is accountability in the workplace?
Accountability at work is essentially about ownership and initiative. This refers to employees stepping up, and doing what is best for the business. An employee who is accountable will take responsibility of results and outcomes – they won’t presume that this is purely the concern of management.
Accountability at work includes:
- If you acknowledge that a task, duty or job is crucial to results, you ensure that task comes to the attention of the relevant staff so that it can be completed accordingly.
- If a task that is crucial to results falls to you and your department, you should ensure that it gets completed to the best possible degree.
- If you have committed to assisting on a certain task, ensure your contribution is of high quality.
- If your work has effects on the work of others, let them know how you’re progressing – their results will rely on your work too.
- If an issue arises with a project completed by yourself, you are honest with management about how you undertook the project and what you could do going forward to rectify the issue.
Benefits of Accountability
Self-accountability comes a wide range of opportunities and benefits which help an employee as a single unit and the team they are working with.
First and foremost, it helps to build trust in the environment. People know they can trust and rely on a self-accountable colleague and, more often than not, they come to them with their problems or requests. Also, if taken on by a leader, he or she emits positive reinforcing vibes throughout the group and, in return, receives unfaltering respect and admiration. Words of these people are steady as a mountain.
Secondarily, employees who radiate accountability in the workplace better understand how to socialize. They take responsibility for their doings, either bad or good, and tend to communicate their feelings more openly to others. As a result, they end up establishing healthier and more encouraging social bridges with their subordinates or friends in the office.
More accurate decision-making folds in harmonically with other benefits of self-accountability. Those who seek detention in themselves and make amends for what they’ve done, not only help themselves, but also save a lot of time, energy, and money for others. They speak up as soon as something goes wrong, and without wasting time, look for solutions to fix the problem.
If someone’s showing high accountability in the workplace, chances are, they get promoted over others. These individuals burn with the light of leadership, which is something every manager looks for in an employee.
What does it mean to accept accountability?
While accepting accountability is a personal choice and requires less direct application of pressure by external forces, it’s still not often an entirely positive experience for either party.
When someone accepts accountability, they’re often doing so not through their own intrinsic desire, but through a combination of internal and external pressure.
At work, accepting accountability might look something like “My team is relying on me to finish this report on time.” That’s enough to push someone forward or to motivate them to complete a task, but not necessarily enough to inspire a great deal of discretionary effort.
Accepting, but not embracing accountability can also lead to a relationship where someone views their relationship with accountability as a burden to be taken on begrudgingly.
Accountability and responsibility at work
Although these terms have some overlap, a number of characteristics separate them. Individuals in the workplace usually share responsibilities, and a specific individual such as a manager is accountable for their actions. The accountable person often has a skill set, job title or educational achievement level that the responsible group lacks.
Accountability at work
Accountability is essential for an effective, influential leader to have. The person or people in charge need to take ownership of their team members’ actions. This allows them to make sure that they complete all responsibilities as expected. Before making a commitment to a managerial role, you should clearly understand what skills and resources your employees will need to finish a task.
Accountability can also help managers build trust at work and increase employee responsibility. For example, an accountable manager can admit if they forget to schedule an essential employee, reorder supplies late or give a trainee inaccurate information. When leaders are accountable for all of their actions and deliver results as expected, companies can benefit from:
- Less turnover
- Lower expenses
- Happier, more productive employees who view their jobs as positive and meaningful
- Better customer service
- More employee engagement
- Workers who require less supervision because they make an effort to learn every detail of their duties and how to fulfill them successfully
- Employees who are willing to take on additional responsibilities because they feel connected to the organization’s mission and want to help ensure its success
- A company culture that lets people exchange information freely and discuss their opinions and feelings with each other openly while feeling respected for their contributions
- Leaders and team members who make their expectations clear to everyone, strive for excellence and can count on each other for support when needed
Responsibility at work
Responsible people are willing to accept the consequences of their actions as well as the rewards of producing exceptional results. For instance, a responsible construction team will complete their duties in accordance with deadlines and budgets while maintaining high safety standards. Responsible employees will likely keep looking for new ways to improve their performance because they know that they will gain satisfaction and commendation for it.
Fixed vs. Relative Accountabilities
Thus, in an organization, the term “accountability” refers to an employee’s obligations, some of which are fixed and some of which are relative. Fixed accountabilities comprise the employee’s obligations to deliver outputs and to use resources and processes precisely as specified by the employer. They are necessary to keep processes in control and can be summarized in two distinct categories:
- Commitment. Employees must fulfill the output commitments exactly, in terms of quantity, quality, and timeparameters, as defined in their assignments, projects, services, and other deliverables — unless the manager agrees to adjust them. Under no circumstances can the employee surprise her manager at the due date with changes.
- Adherence. Employees must simultaneously observe and work within defined resource constraints — that is, the rules and limits established by policies, procedures, contracts, and other managerial guidelines, as well as by law.
Relative accountabilities have to do with the employee’s exercise of judgment to maximize value; they include the following four categories:
- Reach. Employees are expected to add as much value as they can by signing on for ambitious yet achievable targets, rather than hanging back or committing to “low-ball” goals.
- Fit for purpose. Employees must continually strive to ensure the optimal means of producing appropriate outputs that support the purpose for which the outputs were designed in the first place.
- Stewardship. Employees must manage company funds and other resources efficiently and seek ways to continually improve and conserve those resources, wherever possible
- Teamwork. Employees must recognize that it is the concerted effort from and between everyone that generates profit in any organization, rather than isolated efforts to maximize personal output. Therefore, an employee must accommodate other people’s work across the organization to maximize the total organizational value — even if her job becomes more difficult in the process.