Accountability is not a four-letter word!

accountability illustration

What do you think of when you hear the word accountability?  For some people, the word conjures up negative images. (Picture a red-faced person screaming in your face “I’m holding you personally accountable for this mess!”) But accountability is not about who to blame for mistakes and it’s not just something one person dumps on another.  On the contrary, accountability to ourselves and others is a crucial ingredient of success for individuals, work teams and entire organizations.

“A desire for greater accountability is a major theme that MSU employees have expressed in the surveys, focus groups, interviews and advisory group discussions held as part of the Participatory Management Initiative at MSU,” said Dawn Hecker, who leads the Organizational Development team at MSU Human Resources and also serves as a Participatory Management Initiative consultant. “We heard loud and clear that most MSU employees are proud of the work they do and care intensely about the quality of their work. They want to be held accountable for their own results and they want coworkers to be held accountable for their work as well so the entire team can succeed together.”

But to practice accountability well in the workplace, many other ingredients also are needed.

“Most people can get on board with being held accountable for their behaviors and their performance, as long as it is practiced fairly,” Hecker said.  “And that means other Participatory Management elements like good two-way communication, good employee engagement practices and a culture of trust, respect and inclusion also need to be in place.”

Why is it so important to pair accountability with these other Participatory Management practices?

  • Good two-way communications ensures everyone on a team knows exactly what they are responsible for as well as what they can count on others to do.
  • Good employee engagement practices give all team members the opportunity to give feedback when goals seem impossible to achieve and participate in reshaping the expectations or getting the resources they will need to succeed.
  • A culture of trust, respect and inclusion makes it possible for people at all levels and from all backgrounds to feel safe initiating difficult conversations in a respectful, constructive way when it is necessary to correct a problem or get a broken process back on track.

“When you have all these practices in place, it is easier and rewarding for everyone in the workplace to step up and be accountable for their role in the success of their work team or unit,” Hecker said.

2 thoughts on “Accountability is not a four-letter word!

  1. I suggest that accountability starts from the top down. Regular day-to-day employees work hard but communication, accountability, etc. is a two-way street between employer and employee.

  2. Leaders definitely set the tone by modeling accountable behavior and actively using strategies to enhance communication and engage their workforce. Bill, you also make a great point about it being a two-way street. Everyone has a role to play in contributing to this type of environment. As an employee, I need to be willing to share ideas, treat others well, follow through on commitments, etc. When both managers and employees share this perspective, it makes for a great place to work!

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