Accountability: How To Build Ownership At All Levels

Accountability sets the stage for great organizations to accomplish even greater things. It lets you navigate change with confidence. For many, accountability may seem like a given. However, in 2012, a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article reported that one out of every two managers “is terrible at accountability.” That percentage rose by 2015 when another study identified 82% of respondents having no ability to hold others accountable.

How is it, then, a vital part of an organization that’s consistent across all organizations is lacking in the majority of companies?

There are several reasons: the desire to avoid tough conversations; entitlement of employees; and lack of “managerial courage” are some commonly outlined. As a result, the solutions are to have tough conversations, encourage a culture of teamwork, and instill bravery into your leadership team.

All of this may seem easier said than done, but there is a way to build accountability at all levels, where every employee feels personally responsible for the task ahead of them to achieve the common goal. It all starts with leadership.

Cultivate Leaders

Invest in your company’s leaders. Even those who have filled a managerial role in the past will still benefit from ongoing training and goal setting. Continually measure how your leadership team resolves problems, takes accountability for setbacks or failures, and creates new opportunities for their teams and the company as a whole. Leaders have to adopt accountability first to set the example for everyone else in the organization.

Set Expectations

This is one of the most essential parts of any accountability plan. You cannot have a strong sense of ownership based on assumptions. Clarify the plan, set expectations and/or goals, and schedule deadlines to measure against those goals. Not only does this help each employee feel like part of the process, but it aligns what is expected. Many leaders fall short of accountability simply because it was not clear what was expected of them.

Review Growth

Decide how and when you will measure goals. This might be on a project basis, per quarter, or at each person’s annual review. Check-in on the goals that have been outlined on a regular basis. How is your employee faring? Where could they use assistance? Have you offered ways to help them achieve their goals? Document and measure, so when it comes time to review, it will be clear where someone excelled or fell short.

Take Action

Negativity and punishment aren’t the goals of accountability. However, after investing in leadership, setting expectations, and measuring and reviewing milestones, it all comes down to one question: Did the person do what they said they were going to do?

If the answer is no, there has to be disciplinary action. That action can range from missing an opportunity for a promotion to eventually being terminated due to underperformance. While these are not ideal outcomes, it’s the reason why accountability is a non-negotiable for any company that wants to be productive and successful.

Although it’s up to those at the leadership level to “practice what they preach,” each of these directives helps to create ownership at any level of any organization. If an employee does not have what they need to succeed, such as set expectations or goals, it’s difficult to track accountability. Building ownership at all levels empowers employees to ask for clarification, expect tracked goals, and understand actions will be taken based on accountability or the lack of it.

This is what shifts a culture for the better and improves a company from within. The workplace environment must breed accountability through consistent action and those behaviors must be rewarded and celebrated.


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