Fostering Excellence
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Accountability in the workplace is one of the most difficult challenges all organizations face, and one you will encounter from time to time as a leader.  While many of your employees are some of the best, you will at times encounter some who are not as committed to the success of your organization. When your teams are performing, the issue of accountability falls to the wayside, but when teams or individuals do not, accountability becomes a pressing issue not only for leadership, but for the coworkers of the underproductive.

Accountability can be poorly reinforced such as when a boss roams around the workplace asking for frequent progress reports, or when individual employees are singled out for their performance when no standard has ever been articulated. Achieving a consistent accountability program that does not stifle the workplace, yet holds everyone accountable for pulling their weight can be difficult, but is possible. Leaders can have effective accountability provided they fully resource and empower their employees, have deliverable-based accountability relative to an articulated standard, and, as necessary, have consequences for sustained underperformance. 

Six Fundamentals of Accountability in the Workplace

Resources Before Accountability – Before you start trying to hold your employees accountable for their work, they need to be fully resourced. Not having the tools, funding, or support to accomplish their tasks presents an impossible proposition for both the leader and the employee. Employees are unable to adequately meet the standards and accomplish their tasks, nor can the leader expect the employee to be able to do so. The first thing a leader needs to do in order to address accountability in the workplace is to make sure his or her employees have all the resources they need to be successful.

Commensurate Empowerment – Secondly, employees need to have the empowerment commensurate with their responsibilities. The scope of their duties should be clearly defined and having the corresponding authority within the organization is critical to empowering the success of any employee. Before you try and hold an employee accountable for deliverables, make sure they were fully empowered within the company to be successful. This will also create a sense of ownership, which is critical for successful and positive accountability in the workplace.

Clearly Defined Standards – Once your employees have all the resources and authority they need to be successful to accomplish their tasks within a clearly defined scope, you will need to ensure that there are standards associated with their tasks. The standards can relate to quality, quantity or both, but they must be defined at a reasonable degree of granularity. If the standards are not clear, exactly what will you hold them accountable for? Make clear, reasonable standards and let them pursue those goals, fully empowered and resourced.

Focus on Deliverables – Follow-up is critical to any accountability program, but how follow-up occurs is important to its success. Generally speaking, you will not want to hold your employees accountable for attendance, or being at work for specified numbers of hours. Rather, hold them accountable for deliverables. Those deliverables could be sales, completed projects, analysis, trouble tickets completed etc. Holding folks accountable for “being at work” is much less effective than holding employees accountable for producing results that move your company forward. Of course, there are industries that this model is inappropriate for, more especially customer service where service hours are maintained.

Consistent Accountability – Accountability programs can’t spring into existence whenever there is a perceived accountability problem and then fade into oblivion when that problem appears to go away. Nor can an accountability program be engineered to eliminate specific employees who are perceived to not be doing enough. Design an effective accountability program that is reasonable, and not overbearing, then stick with it. Also, be sure it is universally applied and not just used on targeted employees. Your workforce needs to know the accountability system is fair, consistent, and not personal.

Consequences – Lastly, there need to be consequences should an employee persist in underperformance. You owe it to your teams to deliver to them high-performing coworkers who do their share. When you retain lower performers who, despite your efforts to help them succeed, continue to underperform, you pass on the consequences of not holding them accountable to their coworkers. This is not only unfair, it is unwise as your performers may well leave your organization to find another more appreciative of their contributions, leaving you with more under, than over-performers.  

Four Hallmarks of Effective Performance Reviews 

Cost Sharing Training

Products and Services

The 3 W’s (and H) of Empowering Employees

Accountability is one of the least enjoyable topics to discuss, but it is also one of the most important. Make sure your organization has a culture of accountability by ensuring your employees have clear standards, the resources and empowerment to achieve them, and are held accountable to deliverables. When necessary, apply consequences and make sure you have delivered to your performers the coworkers who will be full partners in achieving the organizational vision.

Do you need help creating an accountability program? I would love to assist you! I can be contacted at [email protected]

Michael Farr, PMP, is a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and founder of He is passionate about recognition and enabling professionals to motivate their organizations through recognizing their member’s excellence. When he is not slaying dragons with his kids, he can be found at @fosterxcellence on Twitter and @fosteringexcellence on Facebook.