Mueller - Accountability in the workplace

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Accountability -- There is probably not enough of it in our households and businesses. Often times when my associates and I are working with business leaders, it becomes obvious that there are many expectations clearly communicated in an organization, but there can be a general lack of accountability and follow up.

How do we start holding our employees more accountable? Well, first we must look at our basic systems. Let's ask ourselves some questions. First, who has ownership of the project? The owner should have excellent delegation and follow-up skills, great leadership abilities to empower others to get the project completed.

The owner of a project may decide to do the project in its entirety, or he or she may break the project down into many different pieces and delegate those pieces to others. The owner will set expectations and deadlines in place. It is up to the owner to oversee everyone's progress and help him or her complete their work on time. Then it is up to the owner of the project to praise the success of the participants making sure there are sufficient mental and tangible rewards for a job well done.

As business leaders, do we communicate effectively to our staffs so that they understand what they are being held accountable for? Sometimes, we explain the results we want, without taking the time to explain and review the activity necessary to achieve the results.

A sales manager may always stress that his employees need to make X number of sales each week. Perhaps the sales manager should tell his employees how many numbers of calls per day it will take on average to accomplish a set number of sales. A good manager then will ask his staff, "How many calls did you make today?"

The answer will tell the manager if his people are on track or not. It will be much easier to correct a problem of insufficient calls on day two, than it is to correct problem of insufficient sales at the end of the week, on day five.

Supervisors and managers should have a clear set of goals for themselves and their employees on the team. Are the goals following the SMART formula? That is, are they Specific in nature? Are they Measurable? Are they Realistic, and truly Attainable? Are they Time- sensitive? In organizational meetings, I often see that many companies have goals that are not measurable. It is not enough to say we are on track. We must have metrics (measurements) in place. It is by using these metrics that we can see our results, that we can hold people within the organization accountable for their activity and results.

Sometimes, there must be a consequence involved when we are holding people accountable. That is often difficult to do in the business world. In some companies paychecks may be withheld until an activity report is submitted each week. At my company, we frequently have requirements to get into the weekly sales meetings. Our "ticket" may be a certain report, a questionnaire that is to be completed, etc. to attend the meeting-this can prove to be a great motivator and a good tool for accountability.

Sometimes, the team members need to find ways to hold their supervisors accountable. How many times have some of us had a boss who made promises to investigate something for the group, and forgot to get it done? This is why regular staff meetings are essential.

At the end of each meeting, someone is responsible for sending out minutes, and the minutes should contain who has committed to doing what action, what the timeframe for that action is, and who is going to follow up or assist the person who owns the project. Regular communication is essential to getting the job done.

Another value in having regular meetings is that when we verbalize our intentions, we tend to be more committed to acting upon them. There is a "sense" of accountability when we say we are going to something out loud in front of our coworkers.

With careful planning, good communication, and stringent follow-up, accountability should be a given in organizations today. Just having high expectations is not enough in the workplace today. As leaders, we must master the art of accountability and follow up to make sure others'activity and results match our expectations.

Sharon Mueller is the regional manager for Dale Carnegie Training. Dale Carnegie Training recently partnered with Metro Business College in Cape Girardeau. To find out more about this partnership and course offerings, call Mueller at 332-0900 or email at

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