I have a deep aversion to buzzwords.
So deep, in fact, that we actually have an internal document listing all of the words that we don’t want appearing anywhere near the WORKetc blog.
Still, there are some buzzwords that do have weight behind them.
One such word is “accountability”: owning your work as well as all of the responsibilities and problems that come along with it.
It’s one of those words that gets thrown around the office all the time.
Yes, it’s become a buzzword, but it’s one that can actually make or break a company.
Now, a workplace where everyone is highly accountable would probably be something like heaven to an owner.
Everyone knows what has to be done, they all show initiative, they all take responsibility for their projects and processes.
Of course, such a highly accountable workforce isn’t something that coalesces overnight. In fact, even one intrinsically accountable employee is probably as rare as a half-unicorn, half-writer.
The good news is that you don’t have to scour the world looking for that one person who has the drive and sense of responsibility that you need.
You can instead start turning your office environment into one that breathes accountability.
Accountability can’t be forced on people, but it can definitely be learned. Here’s how.
Define Everyone’s Roles Clearly
People struggle with taking ownership of their work when their roles are left ambiguous.
How can you expect to make one of your salespeople accountable if you haven’t told them exactly what the scope of their job is?
Clearly defined roles help eliminate confusion and reduce overlap, which in turn leads to less time wasted.
This isn’t just for the benefit of the person in question; it’s for everybody else’s too.
In his book, Building Productive Teams, Glenn H. Varney observes that making sure everyone in a team knows what everyone else is responsible for helps build strength and mutual support.
Here, you can use WORKetc’s built-in knowledge base module to make sure that every single member of your team has their roles defined clearly and concisely.
Using the knowledge base, you can create an employee manual that contains internal processes for everything from how to handle sales and support to naming conventions.
Let’s say your IT business has a very busy support team. Day in, day out, you create a lot of screencasts to help remote clients
To keep everything uniform and easy to search, you can create internal document on the knowledge base that covers everything from screencast format and naming conventions to which videos will be publicly accessible.
The same goes for a digital design company. You can create an internal style guide to help newbies acclimate to how your company approaches design, for example, or compile stock image site links and login details in one document.
Make your performance tracking process clear
Be very specific with your expectations. Spell them out vividly right from the start so you and your employees are in mutual agreement.
Next, make sure to let your employees know that their performance will be measured using only those expectations and requirements you spelled out and nothing else.
Using the description fields in projects and tasks can prove essential here.
Even when you have naming conventions down to a science, a newbie thrown into the deep end would still be confused if there aren’t any descriptions laying out exactly what a task assigned to them is all about.
Let’s say you run a digital design company. For each logo design task, you can include specifics in the descriptions such as what format the final deliverables should be.
If a client has very specific instructions that don’t apply to a majority of your projects, you can also include these in the descriptions to make sure whoever gets assigned to the project knows exactly what is expected from them.
If your standard practice is to deliver scalable vector files so clients can easily resize them, for example, but one particular client wants everything to be raster images set to a specific print size, then make sure to include that information in that client’s projects.
It could save you and your design team from the headaches and embarrassment of delivering the files in the wrong format.
Now, being detailed is good, but don’t go overboard. Just remember to follow the S.M.A.R.T. rule: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive.
An easy way to keep the descriptions short and concise is to use them in tandem with the knowledge base and add links to more in-depth articles.
Make it a team effort
I mentioned mutual support earlier, and one way to build that kind of office culture is to make your company processes and protocols promote cooperation.
This is the environment that most efficient teams thrive in. Let them collaborate, communicate, and discuss so they can focus on team goals instead of individual ones. This can help bring about a sense of peer accountability.
VitalSmarts, whose name you may recall from one of our user success stories, asserts that peer accountability is one of the best workplace practices that any company can foster.
WORKetc’s core features encourage this kind of environment. The activity history, for one, already does this by keeping track of every single thing you do for a client.
If you’re running an IT support business, for example, one of your support agents can take a quick look at a client’s activity history to see what other support agents as well as your technicians have done for that client.
If there’s a problem with a solid-state drive that one of your techs installed last week, for example, you can quickly pinpoint which tech did the job by checking for activities logged against that client record.
You can also promote team communication and accountability by using project stages.
Let’s say your company develops mobile apps. To promote full accountability across your development team, for every bug fix task, you can add a “For Review” stage.
When the issue is fixed by one of your developers, they can switch that task’s stage to “For Review” and then send a discussion message to the support agent who logged the bug.
That support agent can then go ahead and confirm if the bug has really been fixed, reply to the discussion, and change the task stage to “Review Passed” or “Review Failed” as needed.
By using these project stages, everyone can help keep themselves accountable—not just to their bosses, but to their colleagues as well.
Remember: It’s not about blame and punishment
Fostering a culture of fear may work for mechanical day-to-day tasks in the short term, but you’ll lose out on so much more: employee initiative, innovation, and ultimately, good people.
The ultimate goal in creating a culture of accountability is to create an organization able to learn, adapt, and evolve. You need to see what works and what doesn’t—and you need people who have the initiative and freedom to tell you what they think.