Embracing Accountability


Accountability gets a bad reputation for being a negative part of the workplace. The word usually comes up in connection with situations where negative behaviors or results arise. However, creating a culture of accountability can be a positive for everyone, and can actually help avoid negative situations because it sets expectations, creates ownership, and provides a clear vision for where an organization is headed, and how each employee contributes to making that vision a reality. Below are a few tips to help embrace accountability instead of dreading it.

Accountability Means Ownership

Taking ownership of a role, a project, a task, etc. With clear ownership there is no confusion surrounding who is responsible. In order to establish clear ownership, there should never be more than one owner. Even if a project requires more than one person to complete it, there should be an ultimate owner in charge of making sure it gets done. This avoids confusion on who is doing which part and who is ultimately responsible for the end result.

Accountability Means Expectations

Create a description for each role in your organization that has a maximum of 5 or 6 key responsibilities. Next, pick a handful of key metrics to measure the employee’s performance on those responsibilities - for example, if one of the employee’s responsibilities involves sales, create a metric that measures sales, such as revenue generation. Measure the metric at least monthly to ensure the expectation is being met. Measuring key responsibilities and metrics regularly makes it clear what is expected from each employee. Clearly outlining expectations is refreshing to both employees and their managers – it makes it so that people are no longer accountable for everything – instead, they understand the key responsibilities they are responsible for.

Accountability Means Setting the Groundwork to Accomplish a Vision

If expectations are established and aligned with an organization’s overall vision, then each person understands their personal responsibilities and their connection to the vision. According to the Oz Principle of Accountability, an organization should identify 3 Key Results to focus on in order to succeed. Usually at least two of the Key Results are tied to financial goals such as revenue and profit, with the third Key Result usually being tied to employee engagement, client service, or something similar. It is crucial that the Key Results are measureable and transparent to everyone in the organization so that each person can make the connection between their personal responsibilities and expectations and the overall vision. Using the example of the sales person, their personal metric may be to sell $100,000 worth of products each month. If one of the Key Results was to produce over $1 million in revenue across the organization, it is obvious that the salesperson’s performance is directly tied to the organization’s results. Some personal metrics may not be as obvious as this, but there should always be a connection to the overall vision – otherwise, why are you doing it?

A culture of accountability is created when an organization establishes a culture of ownership and clearly sets expectations for each employee that tie to the overall vision. In the end, understanding that accountability is beneficial for everyone is the key to embracing it. An accountable team benefits from trusting each other, understanding each other’s parts of the vision, deals with less confusion and workload imbalances, and enjoys more opportunities for praise and growth.

The Culture Counts blog is a discussion of law firm culture and legal innovation, including topics such as effective leadership, employee engagement, workplace culture, ideal work environment, company core values, and workplace productivity.  

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