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Personal Accountability in the Workplace

team accountability
Personal Accountability in the Workplace

Accountability is a fact of life. You have to be responsible for your actions—and inactions—with your coworkers, family, and friends. Accountability in the workplace has the same outcomes. It builds trust, making everyone’s life at the office much easier and less stressful. And who doesn’t need that? Unfortunately, too often, it conjures negative associations that cause the opposite.

Job accountability meaning typically implies blame and punishment. Albert Einstein wisely reminds us, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Instead of viewing accountability in the workplace as the result, why not look at it as a journey to becoming a better you? It’s all about changing your mindset to one of making yourself more reliable and trustworthy.

Dare to be the person you want to be.


Defining Accountability in the Workplace

Showing accountability in the workplace and in your personal life means taking responsibility for your actions. You own them. If you willingly took these tasks or duties on in the first place, that shouldn’t be a big deal. However, it also implies you’re telling your manager and team members not to worry because you’ve got this. You’re accepting the challenge.

You’re creating the expectation.

The rise of the hybrid workplace has moved the goalposts. Not only are we communicating synchronously in new ways like Zoom but, we’re also using asynchronous forms more, such as Slack and texts. It can add headwinds to ensuring accountability if team members don’t see each other as often during the work week. That gives it another wrinkle we must manage.


For Employees

Accountability at work isn’t much different from your home life. You tell your spouse and family you’re going to do something and follow through with it. It’s not complicated. You say what you mean, and you mean what you say. It’s the same as being accountable at work, even if we’re not in the office every day. While many enjoy remote work, we wonder if communication has suffered. 

Sadly, only 60 percent of employees know what’s expected of them on the job. Moreover, only 30% feel they have a say in their own career path and performance management. These figures show a failure of personal accountability in the workplace because individuals don’t know what they’re supposed to do. It’s easy to see how job dissatisfaction, disengagement, and attrition follow.

It didn’t take a pandemic to figure out that something was broken.


For Managers

Accountability at work isn’t just the burden of the employees. Holding managers accountable is imperative, too. Perhaps a change of thought can offer a way to achieve this goal. University of Minnesota Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck has a fitting analogy that offers wise insights into bringing this concept into fruition with his Row the Boat philosophy.

The boat is you and your team working together to complete projects and meet your deadlines. The oar is the leadership and the resulting enthusiasm that drives your staff to stay on point. Finally, the compass is your collective focus on your organization’s objectives and key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs). It offers an excellent picture of a well-performing team.

Unfortunately, the boat somehow went off course. According to McKinsey and Company, 90 percent of managers are experiencing or expect skill gaps to occur or widen within the next 5 years. That can make it more difficult to meet goals without the team members able to function in these roles. It also shows what’s needed. 

When we speak of personal responsibility, we’re also talking about accountability leadership. It’s there where managers must step up and prioritize training to optimize the skill sets of their staff. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”


Benefits of Personal Accountability

 Personal accountability in the workplace is a two-way street where everyone benefits if all embrace it. Individuals can concentrate on their tasks with peace of mind knowing that others are doing the same. Every team member is doing their job. Managers have the satisfaction of realizing their staff are fulfilling their roles on the pathway to success.

Employees don’t have to worry about misaligned expectations. They’re doing the job for which they were tasked. They have what they need to perform their best. Leaders don’t have to micromanage their people. They get it. They know what to do. That means less stress, more engagement, and improved morale for everyone in the organization. 

Doesn’t that sound like a great place to work?


Examples of Personal Accountability in the Workplace

Sometimes, accountability at work means taking chances. That’s okay because psychological safety is built into the mix. And it doesn’t have to be monumental feats or sacrifices to see it in action. Little things can profoundly cultivate a culture of accountability. For example, speaking up if you see an error in a coworker’s spreadsheet instead of letting them present inaccurate information shows you care.

Accountability at the workplace is finding solutions instead of being the company’s Eeyore. It’s easy to complain about deadline conflicts or quota shortfalls. It’s another thing to suggest realigning the workflow to suit everyone’s schedule to complete a project more efficiently. Likewise, being proactive save a lot of time and effort than letting the boat hit the rocks. It means looking out for each other.

It’s essential to remember that people see, hear, and notice a lot more than they may admit out loud. Just because you’re not getting word about a problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The key is to make responsibility everyone’s goal.


How Leaders Can Encourage Personal Accountability

Accountability leadership shows your team that you’re all in it together. It’s about practicing what you preach. It’s also about holding yourself to the same bar that you expect of your employees. Furthermore, managers must be leaders and coaches. Setting expectations for your team members without sharing your knowledge and experience to help them succeed is not enough.

The sobering reality is only 20 percent of employees feel that management motivates them to do their best work. To get back on track, leaders must rethink worker evaluations and their role in personal accountability. It’s a different workplace where traditional methods aren’t relevant to today’s hybrid workforce.

Being accountable in the workplace means management must give their teams the tools and training they need. Everyone must also be on the same page and know what success looks like and how to get there using the same playbook. Leaders must coach their employees along the way with the goal in clear focus. 

It is worker evaluation 2.0 repackaged as performance management.


Performance Management and Personal Accountability

Accountability in the workplace depends on clarity in communication and expectations. Managers and employees should work together to create success criteria, not unlike a scorecard. However, leaders must also create an environment of trust. Motivate your staff by aligning their compass toward goal fulfillment. Engaging your people gets the job done without instilling job insecurity into the mix.

Retired AT&T Executive Robert K. Greenleaf summarized it best when he said, “The organization exists for the person as much as the person exists for the organization.” Be that leader with individual and team goals to show everyone is working together and holding each other accountable.

The result: a better work-life balance for you and your employees.


How Employees Can Embrace Personal Accountability

The team concept in the workplace facilitates taking accountability at work to the next level. After all, you’re striving to meet the same goals. Help each other. Ask for help when you need it. These things will build trust and foster a culture of accountability with compassion and empathy. It creates a team mindset instead of a me-versus-them attitude.

Of course, things happen. Remember that conflict is inevitable. Everyone won’t always agree all the time. The key is to embrace emotional intelligence and find solutions or compromises. Active listening will go a long way toward achieving this aim. Understanding where someone is coming from can open the door to better communication.


At the Individual Level

Personal accountability also has an individual aspect. Whether you’re a manager or new hire, it’s your responsibility to show up to work, literally and figuratively. You should also pay attention to the fine print. Understand thoroughly what tasks you have to do. Remember that your team is relying on you. Don’t let them down with avoidable errors. That includes leaders.

Probably one of the most telling signs of an emotionally intelligent person is their willingness to own up to their mistakes. Think of them as learning opportunities. It’s not as if you’re the only one who has ever botched something. As a coworker, take it upon yourself to help one another instead of casting blame. After all, things pass quickly in today’s world. Acknowledge the error, fix it, and move on to the next.


Transitioning to a Culture of Accountability

Who hasn’t cringed when they heard their boss say, “We’re going to try something different today, people.” Leaders need to recognize these words can strike fear in their employees, with thoughts of job insecurity rising to the top. It’s in our collective DNA to shun the unknowns in our world. It’s a survival instinct. Adding that scary word accountability may fan the flames.

Therefore, the first step in accountability leadership is to calm anyone’s fears about losing their jobs or any other negative impact. Frame it positively, beginning with acknowledging your needs for improvement. Your employees are undoubtedly used to being held responsible for their mistakes. Letting them learn that it starts with you is one of the best examples of being accountable at work.


Aiming for Clarity

The goal of this transition to bring everyone together with their compass pointed in the same direction. Nevertheless, the destination may have more than one path to reach it. That’s why you should ask for comments and questions. Let your people have a say in the team’s goals and expectations. Often, people in the trenches can bring a fresh perspective to a situation. Tap into that creative potential.

Leaders must find out what their employees need to succeed. Interestingly, the top power skill in communication employers seek is assertiveness. You can empower your teams by encouraging them to speak up in a psychologically safe workplace. Seek their input on how to make the goals happen. This preliminary discussion will give you the necessary information to delegate the workload.

Kutsko Consulting can help you build a healthier team with accountability at work. However, it’s more than setting goals and assigning tasks. It’s also about follow-up and feedback. The words “The End” never appear in a project outline for a reason. No one can plan for everything. The wise leader is always open to opportunities to grow their business with what they’ve learned along the way.

It’s imperative for building trust to make feedback discussions frequent and positive. Who hasn’t felt the dread of being called to the boss’s office? Your job as an emotionally intelligent servant leader is to ensure that it’s not the first thought going through your employee’s mind. Don’t forget that something that went wrong might have started with you.


Final Thoughts

Today’s work environment is evolving. We’ve learned the importance of the people in our lives and how much we need each other through the pandemic. We’ve had to embrace new technologies and means of communication. However, underlying it all is still accountability in the workplace. It’s more important than ever with the rise of the hybrid workplace.

Leaders must steer the way by showing accountability begins at the top. If superior performance is the goal, managers must step up with nothing less than total commitment to their staff and the organization. The companies will benefit from better employee engagement with people as dedicated to the mission as their leaders. Learn more about how Kutsko Consulting’s courses can help.

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