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Start with a behavior statement.
Everyone needs to understand that they will be held responsible not only for the results of their work, but also for how they go about their work, and their rewards will depend on both.
If, for example, a company's most experienced salesperson has great sales numbers but bullies the shipping department every time he/she needs an order rushed, or if you have an employee who clients love but who often misses internal targets, those transgressions must have consequences despite these employees’ successes in other areas.
One useful way to communicate this is to develop behavior statements that make it clear what you’re looking for.
The statements will answer the fundamental question of what, precisely, you’re trying to fix, implement or eliminate.
This is especially helpful in international companies, because accountability might mean different things in different countries, languages and cultures.
So, for example, you might establish accountability behavior statements, such as:
Always do what you say you’ll do.
- Always tell the truth.
- Bring issues up as you discover them.
And then make those even more clear through Dos and Don’ts.
- Do be open, honest and truthful.
- Don't make excuses.
“Once you’ve established accountability behavior statements and provided Dos and Don’ts, you can revisit them during performance reviews,” Miller notes. “They’ll help drive discussions with employees on how they are doing when it comes to meeting your company’s accountability standards.”
Regularly meet up and talk it out.
Do you hold regular communications meetings with your team or organization?
We recommend it, because meetings provide an opportunity for management to highlight people who have demonstrated good accountability, as well as to show where things went wrong and what could have been done better.
“This should be done in a way that instructs rather than punishes,” Bedford says. “Use every available communication tool to emphasize why accountability is important: Electronic signs, business reviews, one-on-one meetings, e-mails, posters and more. If, by way of regular communication, you reinforce the changes you want to see, you will drive the value deep into the organization.”
Don’t promote accountability shirkers.
A sure way to express the importance of accountability at your organization is to connect it to advancement.
Promotions and salary increases should be considered only for people who demonstrate accountability as defined by the organization, Miller says.
“When your employees do well, reward and promote them,” she says. “If they don’t do well, apply consequences and make sure they understand that their performance will limit their success and possible progression. Do not promote employees with problems with accountability, especially if they’ll be moving into a leadership position. If you do, rest assured that employee’s problems with accountability will become other employees’ problems with accountability.”
Hire accountable people.
Spice up your interviews and weed out the unaccountable by asking key questions during the interview process.
Instead of asking a job candidate about her strengths and weaknesses, ask, “If I asked your boss how you demonstrated accountability, what example would he or she give?”
Or say, “Share with me a time where you made a big mistake and how you handled it.”
If you’re interviewing a candidate for a leadership position, you might say, “Summarize a difficult conversation you had with an employee who had failed to meet a commitment.”
Or, “Describe a situation in which you very clearly held others accountable for their performance and it paid off. How did you do it and what was the outcome?”
“More and more companies are using skill assessment tools and personality tests to screen potential candidates, so why not add behavior-based questions to screen for accountability,” Bedford says. “Of course, hiring an employee and then training him to be accountable is possible. But hiring people who are already accountable is a better, less costly option.”
Monitor your success and make adjustments as needed.
Goals and metrics should be used to guide the business on an ongoing basis, not just at the beginning and end of the year.
“Use regular business meetings to establish an accountability drumbeat to keep goals and metrics on track so there is a better chance to achieve success,” Miller says. “Reviewing goals at the end of the year and hoping for success will likely end in tears.”
“When left unattended, the negative results that come from a lack of accountability will spread,” Bedford says. “Will your organization be able to survive that kind of plague? Maybe. Certainly, not all companies meet the fate of the Enrons and Lehman Brothers of the world. But in the end, what will your company look like? Will it be a place where great people want to work? Will it be able to provide great services or products to customers? When you commit to making accountability stick, you improve your chances of becoming a great company. Make 2014 the year you and your employees dedicate yourselves to accountability.”