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Accountability: can you actually boost it?

Accountability: can you actually boost it?

It’s common among work groups to decry the lack of accountability in the workplace. In response, leaders and organisations focus on improving accountability, but often they do so in ways that are completely counter-productive and damaging. Developing accountability is more complex and nuanced than you may initially think, so it’s worthwhile spending some time of getting it right.

First of all, let’s look at what you need to be doing in your workplace to build accountability

1. Clearly define focus, goals and responsibilities

In order for your team members to be accountable, they need to know what they are being accountable for. What is the purpose behind the goal? How does their goal affect other people internal and external of the organisation? How does it connect to the organisational strategy? And what is their level of responsibility and ownership?

2. Foster Personal Accountability

This comes down to mindset, and while it’s admirable to try to build this in others, the best method is to first build it in yourself. Lead by example by focussing on what’s really important to you; i.e., your BHAG or WIGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or Wildly Important Goals). Make sure you are getting out of the detail, and focus instead on the appropriate level.

3. Develop appropriate feedback and external accountability

Now this is the really tricky one. It seems simple, but done poorly it turns into command-and-control surveillance and micro-management. Communication is fundamentally important, and you should always employ the old maxim of seek first to understand and then be understood. As a leader, your expectations need to be clear, and you need to find out what type of feedback and motivation will drive your employees. Do they need more external accountability, or do they have a stronger internal check? Both are good, and individuals will often have different requirements for different situations. Understanding your people is key.

So... the caveats...

Traditional accountability mechanisms focus on KPIs and other measurements. And reading point one above, you will realise that there is benefit in this. But, and it’s a big but, if not done well, these can be disastrous (related to point 3 above).

You need to make sure you are focusing on the right thing. Yves Morieux, of Boston Consulting Group, speaks of the danger of the wrong sort of accountability using the example of a relay race. You could focus on the individual performance and speed of each runner and expect that the collection of fastest runners would be the overall fastest team. But (there’s that word again), in reality, it’s often the collection of weaker runners that do better, because they have better co-operation. I’d really recommend you check out Yves’ talk (linked below) for a much better understanding of this concept.

“But I’m doing all the above and there are still accountability issues...”

Like I said right at the very start—facilitating accountability is complicated and nuanced. Each method to increase accountability, done poorly, can have disastrous effects on accountability, engagement, and morale. What makes it even harder, is that the difference between doing the above three things excellently and poorly is incredibly slight. This is one area where it all comes down to the tiniest of tweaks that will have the biggest of exponential benefits.

So, if you think you are doing it all right, and are still having issues, now is the time to get more reflective—really analyse what you have done, the intention with which you have done it, and the tone in which you did it. And if you really want to improve accountability, get some external feedback and assistance; the observer perspective is invaluable for uncovering the tweaks that make the difference.


Before experiencing the Amazing Scavenger Hunt I was worried that our employees would get bored doing the course and that it wouldn’t be interesting enough. I found, however, that the course was a whole lot better than I expected: the helpers along the way and the interaction with the staff really made the day. It was a great opportunity for people from different teams to mix and we got to see different personalities break out of their ‘normal company role’. It was also great to learn a little more about Perth.

I would recommend this to anyone that has teams that are disengaged, new teams or teams that don’t mix with each other in the workplace. The Amazing Scavenger Hunt was really well organised and we were treated with great service. 

Linda Panizza - Aspen Group