Want to Be the Better Business? Start with Accountability!

By Brian Fielkow

Think about worst places where you have worked or make a list of vendors whose customer service was poor. I’m willing to bet that there’s a common denominator -- a lack of accountability. 

Where there is a lack of accountability, employees routinely do not perform well as a team and fail to go the extra mile. You can’t build a vibrant culture and a successful business without solid, consistent accountability. It is easy to preach it, but it is often difficult to put it into practice. 

Promoting accountability helps ensure that your entire team is working together.

It ensures that people at all levels of the organization take pride in what they do and own the results. With accountability, they’re not afraid of making mistakes. Although, when errors emerge, they step up to address them without fear of consequences.

If you want to fully understand accountability, consider what a lack of accountability looks like in all three realms. 

Lack of Individual Accountability is when employees know their jobs, but they choose not to execute them completely or consistently.  

Employees are quick to pass the blame to another person or department. They aren’t sure of the necessary course of action, but make no effort to seek clarification before going forward. They may be also looking or waiting for management to provide with the course of action.

Here’s How To Fix It:  

If your employees believe that management is to blame, they are less likely to take responsibility for their actions. 

Traditional HR disciplinary practices, applied without a sense of justice, will create perpetual fear among employees. 

Help them trust that those who act recklessly or take unjustifiable risks will face consequences. Although, those who make an understandable or unintentional mistake will not be punished.

The emphasis instead will be on learning from the error and taking any necessary follow-up action. 

Lack of Organizational Accountability is when management accept bad behavior, tolerate excuses, and defends questionable actions.  

Management might make unreasonable demands and fail to define processes and procedures. Where organizational accountability is lacking, outcomes are not tied to results. There are no consequences for poor results and no rewards for excellent results.

Here’s How To Fix It: 

Let’s face it – blaming the individual is easier than looking in the mirror. That said, the underlying problems are more likely than not staring right back at you. This is the step where you can fully let go of blame and establish a just and fair workplace environment.

Demonstrate your willingness to dive into this second-tier inquiry. Show your openness and receptivity to making changes at the top. It will support a better performance with fewer mistakes on the front lines. Making this change will go a long way toward cultivating the level playing field needed for a vibrant culture.

Lack of Peer-to-Peer Accountability is when employees see something inappropriate, but hold back from saying anything. 

Employees may look the other way by saying, “That’s management’s problem.” 

Employees believe that actualizing peer-to-peer accountability will not favor with their colleagues.

Here’s How To Fix It: 

Getting employees to hold one another accountable can be challenging. 

For many employees, it means stepping out of their comfort zone. Peers are reluctant to hold another accountable because many of us thought that it is the manager's job. Second, it just doesn’t come naturally for many people, including leaders.

We all have a need to be liked. When we hold a fellow employee accountable, his or her reaction may be poor. People worry about being ostracized. 

Remind employees that just as management is no longer playing the blame game, they need to cease that practice, too. Urge them to choose to take responsibility for their part in the problem. While this may be uncomfortable at first, doing so will gain them greater respect. 

Brian Fielkow was the Executive Vice President of Recycle America Alliance. His first book, “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence By Creating A Vibrant Culture” was published in 2014.