Six Steps to Boosting Accountability in the Workplace

Written by Brian Montes

On May 12, 2021
Accountability in the Workplace

More than likely, you’ve been faced with a situation where you’ve had leaders in your organization who weren’t providing the coaching necessary to help their teams succeed. Perhaps this is a problem that occurs only sporadically, or perhaps it is persistent; regardless, it needs to be fixed. The good news: there is a solution. The surprising news: it might not be what you would expect. 

Many organizations feel confident in their performance management process because of its structure and rigidity. However, the key solution in the six steps to boosting accountability in the workplace noted below is to rethink those systems and opt for a more agile approach. Ask your leaders to be nimble for the sake of providing better leadership, and to start giving on-the-spot and regular feedback. 

We’ll discuss how to make this work for your organization in further detail, but first, know that this is actually what employees want, even though it may be difficult for leaders to provide. According to a study conducted by Zenger/Folkman: 

“When asked what was most helpful in their career, fully 72% said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.”

 

Negative Feedback

 

 

The key first step will be ensuring your organization’s leaders are equipped with the tools to do this effectively. However, once properly set up, you’ll be on your way to delivering real-time, actionable feedback throughout the organization, and reaping the results.

 

 Step One: Face the tough conversations.

First things first: remember that your team cannot do what they do not know how to do. You must implement a culture where providing feedback is the norm, and you must teach your leaders how to effectively build this culture. Give them the tools they need to start delivering feedback to their team and assist them in delivering challenging conversations. Provide them with training and coaching, and lead by example, modeling the behavior that you want them to follow.

You don’t need to recreate the wheel; there are great tools available online that you can use as resources in building training for your organization’s leaders. A great starting point is providing examples of what good feedback looks like:

 

Good feedback is: Good feedback is not:
●     Future focused, providing the employee with examples of what you’d like them to do going forward. ●     Past performance focused, assessing the detail of their prior work.
●     Specific and clear, providing the employee with concrete examples of the behavior you’re describing. ●     Vague or general, leaving the employee unsure of how you’d like them to proceed.
●     Constructive, providing the employee with support for how to move forward. ●     Based on opinion, rather than results.

 

Similarly, your leaders should know how to effectively deliver feedback. First, check in on the relationships they have developed with their staff, as the feedback likely will not be well-received if there is not a good foundation already created. Then, be sure that the leaders feel comfortable setting the stage with their staff. They should communicate that they are working together toward a shared goal, then deliver their objective and honest feedback, with support for how to move forward.

A key component in providing support for moving forward is setting timelines. Ensure that your leaders are involving their employees in this step to get buy-in but set a reasonable goal for improvement that both parties agree on. Actionable steps for change and improvement with set deadlines will allow for streamlined check-ins and leader follow-up.

 

Step Two: Provide feedback consistently (both to manage performance, and to praise success).

Building upon Step One: it can’t end there. After an initial tough conversation is delivered, it is critical that a leader follows through with check-ins and follow-up.

Teach your leaders to view this as an opportunity to give powerful recognition, rather than a tedious exercise in micromanagement. Following up on their employee’s progress when they said they would set the expectation that the initial ask was important, and it validates the effort that was made.

On the flip side, if appropriate progress was not made, the leader should be ready to check-in and ask why. The leader needs to offer support to clear any obstacles the employee may have encountered, but ensure that expectations remain clear and that the accountability remains with the employee.

Continue these conversations regularly, even beyond the resolution of the initial “tough conversation”. Leaders should be regularly discussing employee performance and offering feedback and recognition as a standard part of their day-to-day operations, then tying these performance conversations to forward-looking objectives to keep the employee engaged.

 

Step Three: Encourage leadership to be held accountable. 

Now that your leaders are trained and have a feel for how to appropriately give feedback, it is critical to model the behavior from the top of the organization. There are a few best practices top-level leaders can follow to support this culture change and help it spread through the workplace.

  • Lead by example: Set aside time for performance conversations with direct reports, emphasizing the importance of their personal development. This will encourage the next-level leadership to invest the same time with their teams.
  • Ask for feedback: At the top of the organization, leaders likely aren’t going to attract a lot of feedback-givers. However, if they ask for it genuinely, it will show their interest in change.
  • Be transparent: Most importantly, be transparent about the feedback received, and what changes will (or will not) be made. Of course, not every suggestion can or should be implemented – but an open and honest atmosphere will encourage additional feedback and more innovative and feedback-driven culture.

 

Step Four: Develop and implement peer feedback loops.

Although top-down feedback is great, peer feedback can have an even stronger effect. According to Gartner, peer feedback can boost employee performance by as much as 14%. Ideally, you can implement peer feedback into your organization in both a structured and unstructured manner.

  • Structured peer feedback loop: Build a systematic peer feedback loop into your regular performance evaluation process, which will encourage employees to feel comfortable proactively giving constructive and helpful feedback to their peers.
  • Unstructured, ad hoc peer feedback: After the true peer feedback loop is implemented, peer feedback becomes a regular part of an organization’s culture, leading to a more collaborative and supportive workplace.

 

Step Five: Plan performance in 90-day sprints.

As discussed in the introduction, rethink your performance management process – most likely, it isn’t effective. According to research, 59% of employees feel that traditional reviews aren’t worth the time spent, and 56% say they don’t receive feedback on what to improve.

Instead, switch to a forward-looking quarterly performance sprint. Use your regular 1:1s to engage in quarterly goal setting and performance planning conversations and create metrics and a plan for success. Place the accountability on your employees to own the plan and the follow-up.

Ensure that you have an actionable check-in plan with a regular review cadence that allows for easy delivery of feedback and recognition as discussed in Step Two.

 

Step Six: Conduct regular check-in conversations.

We’re driving this point home because it is likely the most important one. The most critical piece is ensuring that all leaders are having regular check-in conversations with each of their employees. Feedback should not be delivered on an annual basis, and it should not be a surprise. For a true feedback-driven culture to work, it should be regularly occurring and expected – and recognition should be just as common.

Ensure that leaders are having regular, high-quality 1:1s with each of their direct reports.

What does a high-quality 1:1 include?

Employee-led components:

  • Performance plan check-ins.
  • Development planning.
  • Work, task, and project management.

Leader-led components:

  • Feedback and recognition delivery.
  • Relationship building.

 

To an unseasoned leader, this may seem daunting. However, there are many ways to host high-quality 1:1s depending upon the style of the leader. First and foremost, the accountability lines must be again clear: the employee should be the driver of the majority of the 1:1. They should come prepared with their performance plan check-ins, development plans, and any work-related action items that require discussion. The leader’s job is simply to guide the conversation, build the relationship, and provide feedback and recognition.

Depending on the leader’s preferences, there are a few options for 1:1 planning:

  • Structured approach: Create a template or form that the employee can complete in advance of conversations to ensure all necessary items are discussed.
  • Loose approach: Keep a simple running list of action items and conversation topics that need to be covered in a less structured manner.
  • Technology approach: Use a collaboration or project management tool like Google Docs or Trello so that the leader and the employee can keep each other up to date on necessary topics of conversation.

 

The Finale: Continue Revisiting Each Step 

To truly boost accountability in the workplace, this cannot be a “set and forget” initiative. Implementing a feedback-driven culture must be a real and true culture change that is reinforced regularly at all levels of the organization.

For an organization that is missing many of these components, this will be a large change and will take time. Be patient, teach your leaders, and continue reinforcing the message of accountability. With time, you’ll soon be witnessing regular feedback and recognition delivery throughout the organization, and corresponding results!

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