It’s incredibly difficult to develop a successful business and a thriving team without accountability, yet so many businesses neglect to develop this aspect of their workplace culture. If no-one (even in the leadership team) takes ownership of their responsibilities and decisions, little can be achieved, so it’s vital that everyone in the business takes initiative and recognizes when they need to step up and take action. 

With this in mind, what is accountability in the workplace and how can you embed it into your culture?


Benefits of accountability in business

There are many benefits to implementing more accountability in the workplace, and while it’s a complex task, it’s very worthwhile and achievable. Accountability in a company’s culture builds trust within your team, something that so many organizations still lack, allowing people to count on one another to do what they say they’re going to, whether it’s meeting a group deadline, feeling comfortable enough to ask for help when they need it or fulfilling their responsibilities. A workplace that feels safe and dependable is beneficial for everyone, and it strengthens the whole team. 

Fostering a workplace culture built on accountability also increases efficiency and productivity, since employees know who is responsible for each task and can rely on everyone to do their part. It eliminates any confusion and helps everyone to work swiftly and efficiently as a result. 

Accountability also means that leaders and staff pay closer attention to processes and results, rewarding excellent performances and taking action to improve processes that are no longer working. It strengthens the business as a whole and encourages honesty, integrity and a culture of learning so that everyone can achieve greater success. 

Another benefit that accountability in a workplace culture can offer is greater compliance. With ever-changing laws and regulations in every industry, compliance is dependent on accountability from every team member. Businesses need to know that staff are responsible for their actions and work with integrity, in order for the company to remain compliant where necessary and reduce the risk of fines and legal consequences. 


The impact of a lack of accountability

If accountability is lacking in your organization, it can have severe consequences. Leadership expert Melissa Raffoni argues that a “lack of accountability is the result of an underlying issue, such as unclear roles and responsibilities, limited resources, a poor strategy or unrealistic goals”. If there’s no accountability in a business, it can result in indecisiveness, poor communication, distrust, procrastination and poor collaboration between colleagues, none of which is conducive to a successful business. It’s a recipe for an unproductive and dysfunctional work environment, making it harder to achieve targets and goals. 


What does accountability look like in practice?

Accountability isn’t trying to catch employees out, shaming them for mistakes or implementing strict rules in the workplace. It’s the process of creating a productive environment built on responsibility, where everyone in the team understands the company’s mission and values so they can work towards shared goals. When leaders are clear in their communication about what each employee is accountable for, they form the perfect workplace culture, something that’s incredibly important to a successful business. 

Giving people a say in the setting of company and team goals helps reinforce their commitment to achieving them. But everyone in the business needs to play their role in developing themselves and their colleagues, by providing feedback. “A team should create clear standards, using leading indicators to enable each team member to know that they are doing their part”, explains Howard Shore, Founder and CEO of Activate Group, “The more detailed the action plans and the more specific the leading and lagging performance measures are, the easier it will be to hold people accountable”. Goals inform staff of what’s expected of them and ensures that everyone in the team understands how to accomplish those goals.


5 steps to develop accountability

Define expectations

In order to achieve accountability, staff need to have clearly defined expectations. Employees need to understand their purpose in a company’s mission, and how their responsibilities will evolve as the targets change. Assign clear responsibilities to each person, whether it’s their daily task or a unique project, so that everyone is working to the same guidelines. This way, if someone isn’t pulling their weight or tasks aren’t getting ticked off, it’s easy to understand where in the process things have fallen short. It also helps staff develop purpose and autonomy in their work. 


Make it a core value

Your business’ core values are what drive your company forward and dictate how you expect your staff to behave in the workplace. If you want accountability to be a focus for your employees, making it a core value is the ideal place to start. Make sure that staff know, from their first day on the job, that accountability is expected from them and include it in performance reviews and team meetings as part of an ongoing process. This helps to unify your team with this collective goal and ensures everyone knows the steps taken to hold each individual accountable, from interns through to CEOs. 


Prioritize development and improve retention

Accountability is all about taking responsibility for decisions and solutions, but employees can’t do that if they don’t have the necessary skills and training to make the right call. With a focus on development and growing skill sets, staff can learn from mistakes and be more inclined to stay in their roles if they feel like their efforts are valued. In turn, this greater retention rate, and increased employee satisfaction will result in better results for the company overall. 

Staff won’t feel comfortable taking responsibility for tasks if they believe that they’re going to fail, so help them progress with confidence by training them in the areas they want or need to develop. This might also look like having accountability as a criteria for pay rises and promotions, so that it remains a focus for employees as well as leaders. 


Celebrate success

If a team member has demonstrated accountability, don’t ignore it — celebrate it! Positive reinforcement has much better results than shaming or reprimanding someone for making a mistake, and it encourages people to follow in their colleague’s footsteps in the future. Maybe you offer a public show of appreciation when someone has demonstrated accountability, or maybe it’s something you discuss with each team member individually in one-to-ones where you can provide feedback. 


Lead by example

Leaders can’t hold their team to a standard they’re not prepared to follow themselves, so if you want accountability to be present in your company culture, you need to abide by the rules yourself. Being accountable from the top down demonstrates you are a responsible and reputable business, and one that is recognized by employees, clients and stakeholders alike for having a Corporate Socially Responsible (CSR) philosophy

By leading by example and holding yourself accountable, you can show staff that falling short on goals doesn’t have to be the end of the world and that there’s an opportunity to discuss it and grow from the experience. Fear of failure is one of the primary reasons why employees struggle with accountability, so foster trust and be honest about your successes and failures to make it easier for staff to accept their own responsibility.  


Fostering accountability in your workplace culture offers so many business benefits, from improved productivity and a boost to morale to better compliance and autonomy for employees. It provides a sense of ownership that all staff need to really thrive in a role, so if it’s not part of your existing culture, make it a priority for the year ahead.