Workplace Accountability

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Accountability in the workplace seems like a no-brainer to most of us. We all go to work with a job to do, and we expect our co-workers to do the work assigned to them. What is often not thought about is reverse accountability; management being accountable to their staff. A workplace will not be successful unless everyone in the organization is held accountable for his or her actions and performance.

Employee accountability is something I would bet you are all familiar with, annual performance evaluations are used in industry to get a snap-shot of performance throughout the past year. Additionally, in the moment accountability happens in most industries, which is when a supervisor or manager addresses issues as they occur. My opinion is that utilizing these two types of accountability in the fashion that they are most typically used (as either immediate disciplinary action or a vague background in annual evaluations) doesn’t serve the employee or the manager well.

First, the easy one, employee accountability. Now, I’m not saying that the two styles of accountability stated above don’t have a place, much to the contrary I believe they are valuable tools in providing feedback to your staff. It’s the application of these tools that often fall short. In an organization with 50 employees it is nearly impossible for senior management to remember all the good things their staff did throughout the year without some sort of paper trail. Historically in many organizations, only ‘bad’ issues are documented, leaving frail memories to recall the small wins is simply failing your staff. My recommendation is for managers to keep track of the good along with the bad, this will allow you to give truly relevant feedback during annual appraisals. Not a lot of work, but the staff will appreciate having complete feedback every June.

In the moment accountability is needed, people need to be held accountable for their actions when those actions are recognized. Unfortunately, this is all to often utilized only for poor actions leaving the good accomplishments unrecognized. Managers need to address poor actions for sure, but don’t forget about the good that your staff does everyday, and let them know you recognize it.

Now, the more contentious issue, management accountability to their staff. I am a big fan of utilizing the concept of 360-degree reviews. Basically, this is a process where the management reviews the staff, and the staff reviews the management. Not really a satisfaction survey or engagement survey, 360-degre reviews allow for similar standards as seen on employee annual evaluations. Specifics are key to these surveys working. “My boss doesn’t understand us!” These types of responses aren’t applicable in a 360-degree review, as they don’t give any specifics that management can use for growth. Facts, backed up with examples allow management to actually get the gut-check and growth to help them improve. This isn’t a radical idea (other many managers out there may think so), companies such as Dell, LG Electronics, Doosan, G&B solutions all utilize this type of feedback and with good results. [1]

Much as with the annual employee reviews, utilizing the 360-degree feedback model is valuable, but by itself is not enough. Managers have to see themselves as accountable to their staff everyday, not just one day a year. This means that managers must understand that their staff is watching them every day. Failure to follow up on issues, poor communication, lack of empathy, or inability to complete tasks for whatever reason are often seen my staff as poor management. A manager has to realize that most staff is seeing these actions (or inactions) in the vacuum of their own experiences. They may not understand the why; why are you not getting back to them, why has it taken 3 weeks for an answer to what they see as a simple question, etc. Poor communication leads to misunderstanding, perhaps you are not able to answer the question because as a middle manager you are waiting for your boss, HR, or accounting to get back to you. You know this; unfortunately your staff does not. Part of being accountable to your staff is to communicate with them. As a manager you wouldn’t tolerate your staff not completing a task in a timely manner, and if a deadline were missed you would question them. Staff members may not feel comfortable doing this, but this leads them to having a poor understanding of the totality of the circumstances you are facing. This is your failure as a manager.

Accountability seems like an easy issue to deal with, although many managers fail in true accountability because they fail to address issues appropriately, fail to communicate with their staff, are not interested in hearing the feedback of their staff, or any combination of all. Mangers should take some advise of executives of the Dell or LG and utilize true 360-degree feedback to get real life examples of their strengths and weaknesses. What your boss thinks of you is important, but I would argue what your staff identifies as your weaknesses is much more valuable to you as a leader in the long run.


[1] Lublin, Joaan, Transparency Pays off in 360-Degree Reviews, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2011

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One thought on “Workplace Accountability

  1. Pingback: accountability: carpe diem | the business dude

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