By Olga Valadon
Many leaders face a considerable challenge in establishing accountability in a team. Yet, lack of accountability can have serious consequences, such as lack of productivity, decrease in morale and ultimately failure to achieve the team’s goals.
Encouraging accountability in teams can be particularly difficult for female leaders to navigate. For many women in positions of leadership, holding employees to account for their work can feel confrontational, preferring instead to take a more nurturing approach so as to avoid conflict. But that creates a new challenge in itself. Striking the right balance between being supportive and assertive is key to fostering accountability in a team.
However, there are fundamental conditions any leader can put in place to cultivate and sustain a culture of accountability. Here are 7 questions leaders should consider in order to achieve this:
Are You a Positive Role Model?
Accountability in the workplace starts with the leader. While this may seem obvious, the challenge is putting it into practice.
The first step to building accountability in your team is to set an example of the right behaviours. Observing these behaviours in daily interactions and routines will inspire employees to emulate them. Leading by example can look like:
- Holding yourself accountable for your goals, and making sure to see them through;
- Accepting responsibility for your actions, even when things do not go as planned;
- Embracing open conversations about mistakes and what you learnt along the way.
Once you have evaluated yourself honestly as a role model, talk to the change agents in your organisation, those individuals who can make a difference by influencing positive change, and empower them to inspire others with the same attitude.
Have You Built a Shared Purpose?
The purpose isn’t what we do. It’s why we do what we do.
It is essential for a team to have a shared purpose. It can serve as a catalyst to motivate and engage people. A purpose that is authentically communicated, centred and reinforced will inspire teams to succeed.
Connecting to a purpose that people can relate to will help to build a sense of ownership and accountability in the workplace.
Do Your Team Members Really Understand What’s Expected of Them?
In It’s the Manager, Gallup reports that “only about 50% of all workers, and fewer managers, even know what’s expected of them“.
Clear job descriptions are important, but they serve little purpose in establishing accountability unless they are discussed by managers and their direct reports and regularly reviewed so as to address assumptions and prevent misunderstandings.
It is important that you provide the resources that people need to be successful in their roles and engage in honest conversations about what is under their control versus what isn’t. If you hold a team member accountable for something outside their control, you are putting yourself and them at risk of failure.
How Do You Support Psychological Safety?
Accountability and psychological safety go hand in hand at work. Simply put, accountability requires a culture that is not afraid of mistakes. This is not about ignoring mistakes. It’s about acknowledging them as part of the learning process in achieving the goal.
Psychological safety requires a trusting environment. Trust isn’t just some abstract idea that exists in a vacuum. Trust is formed by practices and behaviours on the ground, by what we see and experience in our interactions with others in the workplace. These practices and behaviours will either foster or erode psychological safety and consequently facilitate or hinder accountability.
Do You Use a Transparent System for Feedback and Accountability?
As mentioned above, it’s important to clarify roles and responsibilities so that people understand what is expected of them. However, a job description alone is not enough to establish accountability. A framework or system of ongoing feedback is necessary.
A defined framework like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) provides more than just a means to achieve business goals. It encourages leaders and their teams to be transparent as they clarify roles and responsibilities, create goals, and communicate. Furthermore, the OKR framework recognises the importance of employee engagement by offering numerous opportunities for quality coaching conversations over time.
Are You Coaching Along the Way?
Accountability can be cultivated through coaching. Engaging in active listening, being curious, asking open-ended questions, and providing objective, non-judgmental feedback strengthen interpersonal relationships and promote an environment of psychological safety, a prerequisite for accountability.
Timing and frequency are crucial components of effective coaching. Coaching works best when it is done at the moment, with regular nudges between conversations to ensure people follow through on their commitments.
A coaching approach that encourages employees to take initiative also promotes accountability. In Spotify’s case study, we see how fostering initiatives leads to greater responsibility and how companies can balance autonomy and accountability.
Are You Rewarding People for Effort and Growth?
Meeting business goals and objectives is crucial. Yet outcome alone shouldn’t be the only thing that matters and gets measured. Growth, effort and learning are equally important. Ultimately, these things are what will get you where you want to be. And there’s evidence that supports the idea that they positively impact employee commitment. Continuous improvement and success occur when you experiment, ask for feedback, learn from mistakes, and encourage your team to do the same.
These building blocks will help you honestly evaluate your progress in building an accountable culture within your team and identify any gaps. Why not challenge yourself to put these questions to work? What is one area of improvement that you could focus on right now? You might be surprised at what emerges.
About the author
Olga Valadon is a corporate empathy expert, business strategist, leadership mentor and the founder of leadership, strategy and culture consultancy Change Aligned®. She has nearly 30 years of corporate experience, from team development, strategy planning and change management at financial services firms like BNYM and Invesco, to Chief of Staff at one of the top 4 global professional services firms. As the founder of Change Aligned®, Olga helps leaders and teams embed emotional intelligence into the foundations of their business as a catalyst for growth.
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