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What you need to know about accountability in the workplace

Some two decades ago, accountability was only a fancy word for a manager’s prerogative to offer constructive feedback (often used as a euphemism for criticism) during performance appraisals.

Employees were evaluated in precise two-week intervals: real festivals of stressed-out managers, conference room scheduling nightmares, and many forms to fill in.

Much has changed since then. While performance evaluation and KPIs still have their role, today’s corporate culture is more focused on the development of employees rather than their assessment.

Accountability is necessary for clarity

Accountability isn't supposed to be about figuring out who didn’t do a job properly and should be sanctioned when something goes wrong. The whole point of accountability in the team is to ensure everyone knows what their responsibilities are and allow team members to ask for help if necessary.

It’s essential for accountability to be present from the C-suite level and extend to general and line managers, team leaders, and the rest of the people in the organization. The organization itself is accountable to its shareholders, owners, employees, and the larger community.

Managers need to be ambassadors of accountability

Accountability needs to start at the top, with managers owning up not only to the performance of their direct reports individually but also as a team. This requires standing up for employees when important decisions are being made and ensuring they have a proper recognition within the organization.

It is important to have meaningful one-on-one meetings with people to get a good image of where they are and what they require to succeed. Managers also have to keep the team motivated and engaged, as this is paramount to productivity. They are also responsible for demonstrating and living by the company values.

Read more: Leading for impact: 5 Golden rules for effective leadership

Accountability runs both ways

Accountability between an employee and the team leader or manager is the building block of any successful performance management process. This starts with an honest discussion about goals, expectations, and available resources. While it’s the employee’s job to achieve those objectives, it’s the manager’s responsibility to check in regularly and offer support.

Additionally, a team needs concrete criteria to measure qualitative and quantitative goals. It’s important to remember that qualitative objectives are far more subjective, and there need to be relevant, mutually agreed-upon criteria for their evaluation. Progress monitoring is essential to positive outcomes.

Read more: How learning technologies help improve employee productivity

Organizational accountability

For a long time, the organization seemed to have the sole responsibility of making a good profit and get as much of the market share as possible. While this is obviously still important, organizational accountability is broader today, ranging from the obvious monetary goals to environmental, social, and corporate governance responsibilities.

Especially in the context of the recent (and ongoing) health crisis, organizations have become increasingly responsible for the impact they have in their communities. Furthermore, they are more aware of their impact on the environment and the importance of organizational ethics when it comes to outsourcing or moving operations, going global or digitalizing parts of the business. Transparency, both to the customer base and the stakeholders, is also a growing requirement related to organizational accountability.

Read more: How remote work can benefit your organization

Closing thoughts

Accountability is a requirement in today’s corporate environment. It ensures clarity of objectives and the alignment between these and the overall desired results of the company.

C-suite managers, line managers, and team leaders are accountable for setting up and sustaining an accountability environment. This requires a genuine developmental approach to their direct reports.

For the organization as a whole, accountability means a genuine engagement with the community and a sincere concern (translated into relevant actions) for the environment and society as a whole.