Accountability in the Workplace (And How to Encourage It)

Updated 5 May 2023

Accountability is when an individual recognises and accepts responsibility for their actions. This responsibility includes ownership of a task, admitting mistakes and actively trying to find resolutions. Accountability can often be crucial for maintaining team cohesiveness and ensuring productivity, so exploring how to encourage it in the workplace can help you enhance the organisation's culture. In this article, we define accountability in the workplace, discuss why it's important and share a helpful guide on how to encourage it in the workplace.

What is accountability in the workplace?

Accountability in the workplace refers to employees taking responsibility for their tasks, behaviours, performance and decisions. When an employee takes responsibility, they become responsible for a task, including its outcome. For example, a software tester may perform testing protocols. If the software tester makes mistakes during this process, they accept responsibility and take action to correct their mistakes. Organisations typically define accountability in their workplace policies and communicate accountability when assigning tasks, but it can also be part of an organisation's culture. Strong leadership and collaborative environments typically foster a positive culture that encourages accountability.

Related: How to Define Your Team's Roles and Responsibilities

What is the importance of accountability?

Below, you can explore some reasons accountability at work may be important:

Fosters trust

When employees are accountable for their actions and behaviours, it usually builds trust between individuals and teams. Employees feel they can rely on their team members to perform their duties correctly. When an employee is accountable for their actions, they usually take care to ensure they perform their duties to the best of their abilities. This is because if they make a mistake, they're responsible for fixing the mistake. Accountability can enhance team transparency, as each member understands their colleagues' responsibilities. Accountability and transparency are often excellent aspects of collaboration that can foster trust.

Related: How to Build Trust In the Workplace (And Why It's Important)

Enhances performance

Developing an organisation culture that encourages accountability can usually improve employee performance. If employees understand that the quality of their work is their responsibility, it can encourage them to maintain a high standard of work. For example, a production line team has several employees responsible for unique tasks. If one employee performs their duties to a low standard of quality, the team and the organisation can identify the individual responsible. This usually encourages individuals to maintain a high level of performance.

Related: 15 Ways to Help You Improve Performance at Work

Improves organisation culture

Accountability can be an excellent tool for developing and fostering integrity, honesty and diligence in an organisation's culture. When everyone in an organisation is accountable for their actions, including senior management and executives, it fosters trust, transparency and collaboration between all individuals. This often creates an excellent organisation culture where employees and management trust each other. Trust between employees and management can also improve employee relations, leading to benefits such as employee empowerment, job satisfaction and enhanced productivity.

Related: Signs of a Healthy Company Culture (Plus Types)

Encourages integrity

Integrity in the workplace typically refers to an individual performing their duties correctly and in compliance with regulations and standards, particularly when operating independently. If employees are accountable for their actions and behaviours, they may perform their tasks with diligence and professionalism, fostering their integrity. Improved integrity in the workplace can help an organisation maintain operational compliance with industry standards and regulations. Organisation policies usually outline the behaviours and actions that comply with industry laws. If employees are accountable for their actions and have integrity, they may conduct their duties per organisation policy, leading to improved compliance.

Related: What Is Integrity? (Definition and Examples)

Improves team cohesiveness

When teams practise accountability, individuals understand their responsibilities and also their colleagues' responsibilities. This typically leads to improved collaboration, communication and teamwork. For example, if there is an error in a project, the team can immediately identify the team member accountable and resolve the issue. Rather than spending time and resources trying to determine where and how the error occurred, the team can review who's accountable and the individual can begin correcting the error. When everyone understands each other's responsibilities, it typically leads to a cohesive environment that saves time and resources through effective collaboration.

Related: Top 10 Tips on How to Work Collaboratively In the Workplace

How to encourage accountability

Below, you can explore several steps on how to encourage accountability at work:

1. Lead by example

If you're in a management position and want to foster a culture that encourages accountability, you may lead by example. Your team members might consider you as a guideline for performance and behaviour. If you regularly practise accountability by accepting your errors, arriving at meetings on time, completing your work productively and maintaining high-quality standards, your team members may feel inclined to act the same. If you accept accountability to the same level as your team, it can show you're humble and possess integrity, which can foster trust in your team, further encouraging them to follow your lead.

Related: How to Be a Good Leader (With Qualities and Benefits)

2. Set goals for team members

Setting goals for individuals can be an excellent method of developing a culture that values accountability. Setting goals essentially provides team members with measurable activities that ensure they're practising accountability. For example, if you assign a sales team member with the goal of converting a specific number of prospects into customers, you can monitor their performance. When employees know managers can monitor their performance, it typically encourages them to take accountability for their performance and actions. Setting goals can be an excellent method for fostering accountability in the long term, as you can set long-term goals for employees.

Related: How to Utilise Goal-Setting Theory In the Workplace

3. Create a positive culture

For an organisation to integrate accountability into its culture, it typically requires effective leadership. If an organisation develops procedures and policies for making individuals accountable, you may ensure employees feel comfortable accepting accountability. For example, if an individual makes a mistake in an unhealthy organisation culture, they might develop a fear of failure, as they don't want to receive ridicule for their actions. The solution to this thought process is usually to avoid blaming individuals and rather reflect and focus on correcting the mistake with a positive attitude and patience.

Related: Workforce Culture: Definition, Tips and Importance

4. Encourage two-way feedback

Effective communication is often a primary aspect of a workplace culture that values accountability. Facilitating and promoting two-way feedback can be an excellent method for enhancing communication and transparency between employees, teams and managers. Two-way feedback is when two parties provide feedback to each other. In a workplace environment, this two-way feedback is often between employees and their managers. Feedback can be crucial for encouraging employees to ensure their colleagues are accountable for their behaviour and performance. For example, in an environment that encourages two-way feedback, an employee may feel comfortable sharing their opinions about inefficient management processes.

Related: Why Is Feedback Important In the Workplace? (With Tips)

5. Build a habit of accountability

If you want to foster an environment that values accountability, try to make it a habit for all employees. You can achieve this by setting regular meetings where team members discuss business processes and project progression. Team members can provide feedback on processes, discuss the positives and negatives and outline methods for improvement. This continuous opportunity to provide feedback usually helps employees encourage accountability amongst themselves.

6. Encourage training and development

A crucial aspect of fostering accountability is usually to create an environment where employees feel comfortable accepting accountability. As part of fostering a positive organisation culture, try to foster a culture that values training and development. If the culture values training, development and employee growth, failure becomes an opportunity to learn. For example, a company reviews the reasons for a marketing campaign's poor performance. Rather than placing blame on the team, the company evaluates training programs to improve the team's skills and knowledge. This makes the team feel comfortable accepting accountability.

7. Utilise an accountability framework

An important part of fostering accountability is often ensuring employees understand their responsibilities. You can usually achieve this through effective communication and an accountability framework. The responsible, accountable, consulted and informed (RASCI) accountability framework can be excellent for delegating and assigning responsibilities to project team members. The RASCI model outlines the following team member responsibilities:

  • Responsible: This delegation outlines the individuals responsible for completing specific tasks.

  • Accountable: The individual assigned as the accountable team member, usually a project manager, typically monitors the individuals responsible for completing tasks.

  • Consulted: The consultant individual is usually an expert and provides help and advice to the project team during specific stages

  • Informed: The informed individual receives information and updates on specific tasks throughout the project.

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