What Is Accountability in the Workplace?

When organizational performance is stagnating — or worse, declining — leaders are forced to confront a difficult question: why aren’t we getting the results we need?

Leaders often attempt to correct course by adjusting strategy and optimizing operations. They may re-frame their budget to allocate supplemental resources to struggling projects, shift their strategic approach to a business relationship, or on-board new talent in the hopes of closing performance gaps.

While these efforts can improve efficiency and may even lead to short-term successes, they often fail to sustain top-line improvement because they do not address the underlying culture. If leaders commit the same level of dedication to building a Culture of Accountability® as they do to developing an effective business strategy, they will be better positioned to deliver sustained organizational results.

Defining Your Desired Results

The first step to building accountability in the workplace is establishing a set of clear organizational objectives. This is especially important considering that, according to our landmark Workplace Accountability Study, nearly 90% of employees report that organizational results within their company are not clearly defined or understood. To make matters worse, 84% said that priorities within their organization are constantly changing. With no clear, set targets, how can employees be expected to drive meaningful progress towards organizational goals?

In order to avoid confusion surrounding top-line priorities, leaders should pinpoint and articulate their company’s Key Results — the three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable “must-deliverables” that define organizational success. Only once leaders have clearly communicated these targets with their employees and created alignment across the organization can a company begin to build accountability in the workplace.

Taking the Steps to Bolster Accountability in the Workplace

While many people conflate accountability and responsibility, the differences between these two concepts are significant. While responsibility is associated with clearly defined duties and roles, accountability is the proactive, dynamic, and forward-facing process of exercising one’s agency in order to achieve a goal. According to the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, accountability is the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.”

Achieving Key Results through accountability requires that all employees take four crucial steps: See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It (SOSD®).

See It® – When employees See It, they ask themselves, What factors can I control and what factors are out of my control? They recognize the hurdles that exist and what must change in order to overcome those hurdles.

Own It® – When employees Own It, they refuse to place blame on others and instead internalize the problem, asking themselves, What am I doing to contribute positively or negatively to current results?

Solve It®Once they have taken personal, psychological ownership for the problem, they Solve It by demonstrating creative problem-solving and asking themselves, What else can I do to help create an effective solution?

Do It® Finally, accountable employees Do It by asking themselves, What results am I accountable for and by when?

Ultimately, establishing a culture of accountability in the workplace depends upon every employee’s willingness to See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It.

Nurturing Accountable Attitudes and Behaviors

When employees See It, Solve It, Own It, Do It, they are taking personal accountability for Key Results. However, accountability in the workplace demands continual psychological work — because it can be difficult to maintain an attitude of open feedback, ownership, innovation, and commitment. Sometimes, it’s easier to ignore or deny the problems at hand, offer excuses, justify underperformance — or worse, point fingers and blame others.

Cultivating a flourishing culture of accountability in the workplace requires that every employee is constantly striving to reject these bad habits in favor of positivity, ownership, and solution-seeking — and to help others do the same. By taking personal ownership for problems and solutions rather than externalizing blame or making excuses, employees maintain a proactive approach to Seeing It, Solving It, Owning It, and Doing It every day. Accountable thinking and behaviors enable an organization to achieve its Key Results.

A Culture of Accountability Generates Better Results

According to The Oz Principle, “Only when you assume full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and results can you direct your own destiny; otherwise someone or something else will.”

While this rings true on a personal level, its effects are magnified on the organizational level. If an organization fails to keep its workforce thinking and behaving collaboratively toward its objectives, it will fall victim to circumstance — allowing external factors such as fluctuating market conditions and competitors’ ability to determine its fate. On the other hand, when teams come together to take accountability through SOSD®, they control their destiny — and are able to reach and surpass their desired results.

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