If a job doesn’t get done (or if it’s not done correctly), you can be sure that someone will have an excuse. In many ways, excuses are an act of self-preservation; Whether our car broke down or we just overslept, when we don’t manage to fulfill our responsibilities, we humans can almost certainly come up with a reason to get ourselves out of trouble in no time flat.
However, when people continuously use excuses to avoid taking responsibility at work, it can negatively impact a team and a company. In fact, some of the least successful organizations are ones where people are routinely allowed to shirk their commitments without having to face any consequences.
As a business owner or a manager, holding people accountable is of the utmost importance if you want your company to thrive. But, creating a culture of accountability and responsibility at an organization can be really tricky, especially if you don’t know where to start.
The Connection Between Accountability And Success
During my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of different people. The vast majority of my interactions have been fantastic and I’ve been fortunate enough to get to collaborate with some truly fantastic colleagues over the years.
But, while there were certainly many colleagues that were always able to deliver great results in their work, there were a handful that frequently failed to produce the bare minimum of what was expected of them.
This was true even when the task at hand was simple and well within someone’s abilities. Over and over again, some people just couldn’t meet their deadlines and would fail to live up to commitments they had made to the rest of the team. Inevitably, there was always an excuse about a challenge that resulted in their failure.
In contrast, I’ve found that others would routinely find a way to succeed, even if a project was really tricky. Indeed, I’ve often given my most consistent team members the hardest projects because I know that they’ll find a way to make it work. No excuses, no ifs, ands, or buts – just results.
What most people don’t realize, though, is that any given project has dozens of built-in reasons why you might fail. But, the very best can always find a way to solve these problems and succeed.
A Company Without Accountability Can’t Thrive
I once worked for an organization that seemed to thrive on excuses. As long as someone could come up with a reason why they couldn’t complete a project or task, there weren’t any consequences. People were rarely disciplined and no one was ever fired for failing to live up to expectations.
This lack of consequences was so pervasive that it basically became a company-wide joke among staff. Whenever someone couldn’t follow through on their deadlines, you could be sure that a slew of excuses would follow. Whether it was the old “It wasn’t our fault” or “We can’t predict the future” excuse, avoiding responsibility was the name of the game.
What did this mean for the company? Basically, there was no accountability. Whether you did well or you did poorly with this organization, it just didn’t matter.
Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of this whole situation came during a retirement party for a longtime employee of the company. During his speech, he focused on how he never managed to get into trouble, no matter how many times he had messed up or how many millions of dollars the company lost as a result.
For some reason, he viewed this lack of responsibility as a testament to the greatness of the organization. But, many of us knew that this pervasive avoidance of accountability within the company was really the biggest threat to its survival.
Why Does Accountability Matter?
At the end of the day, problems of accountability do matter. Holding both yourself and your team members accountable is critical to your company’s overall success. Here’s why:
- Although some people like to avoid responsibility, your highest-performing staff generally don’t. Environments that lack accountability tend to drive away highly talented mid-career staff who don’t like to hear other people make excuses just because they can.
- People that aren’t held accountable for their actions generally don’t perform to the best of their abilities. This drives down the overall performance of the company and results in low-quality products and services.
- When people can make excuses without the thought of any consequences, highly-talented staff tend to become disengaged. In these situations, key players within a company will stop believing that the organization can be successful and their work will suffer as a result.
In fact, a lack of accountability is most harshly felt by high-performing staff – not the people who routinely make excuses. For the most part, people who don’t excel at their job tend to like it when they’re not responsible for what they do.
This raises the question of who you want to have working for your company and how much responsibility you want to place on your staff. Fundamentally, as a manager, owner, or executive, you need to decide if you want your organization to have a culture of accountability.
Ultimately, in a high-growth company, your long-term success depends greatly on your ability to hold people accountable. This system of responsibility, though, stars with you – the leader.
What Does A Culture Of Accountability Look Like?
I have a motto: “Do what you say you’re going to do.” It’s clean, simple, and direct, but that’s precisely what you need from the staff at your organization.
Personally, I think that life is easiest when everyone does what they say they’re going to do. This helps build trust between team members because people can then feel confident when they make decisions and plans based on the words of their colleagues.
A culture of accountability also allows every team member to produce high-quality work either on or before the dates that they agreed to. As a result, you can plan ahead, knowing that things will get done as they were promised. This allows you to meet the needs of your client and grow your company. What more could you want?
Conversely, in a company without accountability, people will struggle because they can’t trust that their colleagues will do what they say they will do or meet a deadline. In these situations, staff fail to make commitments and to follow through because no one cares what happens either way.
However, if your company is struggling with accountability, it might be hard to picture what systems would have to be in place for everyone to actually take responsibility for their work. In a 2006 study published in Strategy And Leadership, researchers identified four key requirements for creating a culture of accountability in an organization. This is what they found:
Set Clear Expectations
Staff feel empowered when they are given clear responsibilities, resources, and training. With these tools, they are better prepared to succeed in their work.
Additionally, employees need to see the connection between their contributions and the company’s overall success. Finally, people need to know how their performance will be evaluated and should be able to expect quality growth-oriented constructive feedback.
Expectations Need To Be Credible And Reasonable
People perform at their best when they understand why they’re asked to do something. Providing your team with the proper guidance for their work is the best way to help them feel like they’ve been set up for success in the long-term.
Positive Outcomes Must Be Correlated With Good Performance
We all want to feel valued. In the workplace, people want to know that their hard work isn’t going unnoticed. Although you don’t necessarily need to reward people with huge incentives to get them to do their job, don’t forget to thank them and recognize them for their hard work when it’s warranted.
Negative Outcomes Must Be Correlated With Poor Performance
This is perhaps the most important part of creating a culture of accountability. While being a stickler for deadlines isn’t going to make you any friends among low-performing staff, people need to know that there will be consequences for failing to live up to expectations.
Consistency and transparency are key, here, though. Staff need to know (1) what’s expected of them and (2) what the consequences are if they don’t follow through with their work.
Tips For Building A Culture Of Accountability At Your Company
A culture of accountability isn’t something that just appears overnight – it takes time, dedication, and commitment. But, if you truly want your organization to succeed, it’s the only way forward. Here are some tips for making it happen:
1. Start From The Top
Accountability starts with people in leadership positions. If you can’t hold yourself responsible for meeting deadlines, dates, and responsibilities, how can you expect that of anyone else in your organization?
Be willing to admit when you didn’t meet your own expectations. If you’ve lost a client or you just had a top-performing employee quit, try to understand what happened and don’t immediately start to criticize the former client or staff member. By stopping to analyze why things happen can help you create a solution to that problem to prevent it from occurring again in the future.
Plus, when you lead by example, your staff will be more likely to follow suit. A culture of accountability is a top-down system within an organization and you won’t get anywhere unless you lead by example.
2. Be Very Clear With Your Expectations
Current research on accountability shows that people need to know what’s expected of them to be able to take responsibility for their actions. Give your team very specific expectations and be clear about what their individual responsibilities are.
Be willing to have discussions with your team about your upcoming deadlines and plans, but don’t forget to back up these talks with emails and other reminders. This helps ensure that everyone is always on the same page and ready to succeed.
I personally come up with quarterly and yearly plans that layout what we need to get done, and then break these plans down to monthly sprints.
3. Check-In Regularly
The only way to know if things are going well is to see them for yourself. Check-in regularly with your team to make sure that they understand what’s expected of them and to ensure that they have everything they need to do their jobs.
If people are struggling, find ways to solve the issue. As a manager, you’re responsible for your team’s successes and failures, so find a way to help everyone stay on track whenever possible.
4. Identify Any Chronic Issues
Sometimes, difficulties in the workplace can be quickly and easily fixed. Other issues, however, are just a symptom of a more chronic problem.
More often than not, poor performance isn’t because everyone is slacking, but because one person or a specific department isn’t pulling their weight. Keep an eye out for any recurring problems and think of ways to change things for the better moving forward.
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
This can’t be overstated enough. Communication is the key to accountability in the workplace. But, clear expectations alone aren’t enough.
It’s important to frequently review your team’s progress and discuss what worked and what didn’t. Think of ways to help your team improve its performance over time and consider what you can do to help each staff member thrive.
If someone is struggling, talk to them and find out why. It could just be that one of your staff members would do better if they changed to a different working group. Or, perhaps they’re stressed out because of problems in their personal lives. We’re all human and have our own issues outside of work, so some compassion here is important.
It could also be that the job just isn’t right for them. When this happens, treat them with dignity and help them to gracefully exit your company. Whenever possible, give them the support they need to find employment elsewhere, but be willing to admit that not everyone is going to be a perfect fit for your organization.
Accountability Is Key
Ultimately, if you can build a company that has a solid foundation of accountability, you will build a culture where high-performing staff can thrive. Down the road, this will lead to better overall corporate performance and an increase in the quality of your products and services.
Better products and services make for happier customers and more potential for your company to grow. But, it all starts with holding both yourself and your staff accountable for your actions. When this happens, your company can truly start to thrive.