Employee Accountability

What is Employee Accountability:

I see it time and time again in organizations. They are populated with the “old guard” who can’t seem to adjust to today’s way of working.  Workplace expectations have changed. What today’s mission-driven organization demands is a more efficient, collaborative, flexible approach–employee accountability.  Gone are the days when employees waited for a directive and then carried it out.  Instead, employees need to take ownership of their responsibilities. They need to communicate across previously rigid boundaries. They must “manage” their bosses and colleagues. They need to collaborate and be comfortable with change.  All of this requires a finely honed sense of emotional intelligence.  But this doesn’t always sound like the colleagues we have.  How do you help those colleagues grow into the kind of workers today’s mission driven organization needs?

How to Foster Employee Accountability:

The first step to fostering employee accountability is to be open and honest about what is expected.  Employees need a clear message that expectations are changing and more autonomy is needed. The key to fostering employee accountability is to make it ok for employees to act autonomously. Workplace tolerance for a diversity of solving problems must be increased.  And, the workplace must fully accept that sometimes the solutions people come up with aren’t going to work.

To create an environment of employee accountability where people feel comfortable with solving problems you must create an environment where failure isn’t the end of the world.  Don’t punish people for mistakes.  It truly is better to have a workplace where people step up and try to solve problems rather than asking permission and guidance for every idea they have.  Sometimes employees will get it wrong and that’s ok, because a lot of times they will get it right.

It is often useful to give colleagues an opportunity to solve problems on their own without interfering.  I once worked with an library in which the manager of one department had an office very close to the frontline staff.  Staff had developed the habit of running any situation that seemed the slightest bit unusual by the manager.  It became clear to the manager that many of these things did not need managerial approval or intervention, so he began simply asking staff what they would do if he was out of her office and they could  not ask.  When they provided the answer he would simply say, “that sounds like a good idea, why don’t you do that.”  By encouraging staff to think up a solution on their own they had the opportunity to flex their problem solving skills.  Pretty soon the number “problems” that were run the by manager decreased significantly.

It can also help employee accountability to proactively create guidelines for staff empowerment.  For example, the Ritz Carlton Hotel chain famously allows staff to spend up to $2,000 per day per guest to make sure guests are happy.  One library I know of allows circulation staff to waive up to $25 in fines, no questions asked.  The implementation of this guideline was a game changer for that library which historically did not offer user-friendly customer service.  In addition to creating a situation in which users could be given the benefit of the doubt, this guideline also allowed staff to work more independently. Not comfortable with giving staff that level of freedom? The converse is management retaining control of all decision-making, which is pretty time-consuming given the demands of today’s workplace.  If $25 is uncomfortable for you, propose something you are comfortable with.  Maybe it’s $10. Maybe its $25 total per day. Give some thought to what would work for your organization and what level of expected responsibility makes sense.

Why is Employee Accountability Important

Employee accountability is an important aspect of organizational culture.  A rigid culture  creates workers who aren’t comfortable with being independent, autonomous members of staff. Customers and clients expect whomever they encounter to assist in solving their problems and if frontline staff are not empowered to do so then the result is an unsatisfactory interaction in the customer’s opinion.  Organizational culture should not be an accident.  It must be deliberately crafted.

Think about the challenges in your organizational culture and what works well.  How can you improve?