Management Skills

How to make accountability a core part of your workplace culture

6 min read

Workplaces with a strong sense of personal ownership and accountability thrive- but how do you get there?

Accountability in the workplace means that all employees are responsible for their actions, behaviors, performance and decisions. It’s also linked to an increase in commitment to work and employee morale, which leads to higher performance. However, accountability is lacking in many workplaces.

Accountability in the workplace

Accountability is about ownership and initiative. This means that when an employee says they will do something, they follow through and get it done. It’s recognizing that other team members are dependant on the results of your work. It’s about open, proactive communication to keep team members informed of the status of your commitments because it has a direct impact on their ability to achieve their own commitments.

Taking ownership at work is about taking initiative and doing the right thing for the business. It’s about taking responsibility for results and not assuming it’s someone else’s responsibility. It’s the opposite of passing the buck.

Ultimately, when team members consistently demonstrate ownership and accountability, trust is formed. You trust someone will do the right thing and trust that they’ll do what they said they’d do. Trust is the backbone of high-performing teams.

What happens when there’s no accountability?

It damages the team.

When people are not accountable, one person’s delay becomes the team’s delay. One shortfall snowballs into bigger shortfalls. Tolerating missed deadlines, lack of punctuality and unfinished work have the tendency to make this behavior “no big deal.” People learn that the real deadline is a week from the published one; that consistently being 10 minutes late for a meeting is the norm; that sub-par work is acceptable. Your team suffers, and ultimately your workplace culture suffers. too.

no accountability on the team

Having a member of the team that isn’t meeting their commitments and isn’t being held accountable causes frustration and disengagement with the rest of the team.

According to Partners In Leadership, a lack of accountability in the workplace leads to: 

  • Low team morale
  • Unclear priorities across the team
  • Employees become less engaged
  • The team or individual is not meeting goals
  • Low levels of trust
  • High turnover

How to make accountability a core part of your culture and a core value of your team

The two biggest reasons that we resist holding others accountable are because we’re uncomfortable doing it and because we forget to do it. Here’s how to tackle these issues.

1. Lead by example and hold yourself accountable first

As a manager, you’re the pacesetter of tone, performance and culture for your team. People will follow your lead. If you’re continuously showing up to meetings late, pushing deadlines and not owning up to your mistakes, the team will follow suit. 

So how do you demonstrate your own accountability in the workplace?

  • Complete tasks that have been assigned to you by the timeline you agreed on.
  • Be responsible for the success of your team and make the effort to support your team when needed. 
  • When you schedule meetings, respect everyone else’s time by showing up prepared and on time (and expect that others do too).

2. Work on your feedback skills

Giving tough feedback isn’t easy, but you can get better at it. One of the most important things you do as a manager is to provide feedback. In fact, a global survey conducted by Deloitte found that learning and development is a top priority for both Millennials and Gen Z, coming in third after fair pay and opportunities for advancement. So, even negative feedback is better than no feedback at all. When you regularly give feedback (including positive feedback), it makes tough feedback much easier to give and receive. It also reduces the chance of your direct report being surprised by the feedback they’re receiving, leading to further disengagement.

This is such an important topic, we’ve dedicated a whole post to giving good feedback to employees. At its heart, good feedback comes from a place of genuinely wanting to help someone grow. You need to “give a damn”. The second part of it is to be clear and direct. Feedback should not be ambiguous.

3. Recognize that procrastinating feedback only makes things worse

As uncomfortable as it is, when we procrastinate providing feedback, we only make matters worse. Issues very rarely resolve themselves and just turn into bigger issues. Eventually, you have to deal with it. It’s easier to deal with the issue as soon as possible for you, for the person you’re providing the feedback to and for the rest of the team. Remind yourself of this often.

4. Make accountability a habit

Setting up a reminder to give (and solicit) feedback as part of each meeting agenda will help ensure that feedback flows consistently. We believe one-on-ones and team meetings are great opportunities to build a habit around accountability.

Here are a few of the questions that managers using SoapBox add to their one-on-ones to make accountability a habit:

  • Is there anything we should START doing as a team?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?
  • Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback on your work? If not, where would you like more feedback?
  • Is there an aspect of your job where you would like more help or coaching?
  • How could we improve the ways our team works together?

For more questions you can ask, check out these 121 one-on-one questions that managers and employees can add to their one-on-one agenda.

5. Keep track of your commitments and hold each other accountable

If you make a promise to provide more feedback to your direct reports, make sure you add that as a future agenda item to hold yourself accountable. If your employee commits to providing a work back schedule for a project by such and such a date, make sure you have a way to check-in on that day.

One easy way to foster a culture of accountability – or, if the damage has already been done, address a lack of accountability – is to make sure you’re assigning action items during meetings. This is a perfect way to hold each and every member of your team accountable for their actions. In SoapBox, for example, our Next Steps feature allows you to assign action items to team members, complete with deadlines, right in each meeting agenda item. You can’t close the agenda item until all the next steps are complete, so the team has a clear picture of what’s being done – and who needs to be held accountable for tasks that have been missed.

Making these tips a part of your day-to-day takes time, but it’s worth it when it comes to building a culture of accountability for your team. (And SoapBox can help!)