Why is Accountability important in the workplace? Tips to Improve Yours
Accountability gets a bad rap. It can stir up feelings of stress, angst and even fear.
It’s no wonder, when we always hear about ‘being held accountable’ as if it’s a bad thing:
“How can we hold corporations accountable for sustainability?” “Why aren’t politicians being held accountable for those mistakes?” “It’s time to hold the banks accountable for X, Y and Z!”
But actually, being accountable can be a very powerful and positive thing.
In fact, in the workplace, it can be the secret to success.
It helps create better work relationships, build trust, turbocharge productivity and improve happiness.
If you want your career to grow, accountability is something you should be embracing, not avoiding.
So, what does it mean to be accountable at work?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.”
In a workplace, this means understanding that we’re responsible for delivering the best results for any task, and recognising that our work, and the effort we put in, affects others.
Why is accountability important in the workplace?
Have you ever had a friend or colleague who makes promises, only to break them? Or a teammate who always misses training, fails to show up or doesn’t do their share?
Now imagine this friend or teammate is in your workplace. Worse, imagine there are lots of people like this.
Productivity and morale will be low. Co-workers and managers won’t trust each other to complete tasks. The culture becomes toxic, people become unhappy, and it’s not long before the whole organisation suffers.
Now let’s flip it.
Imagine everybody is accountable to everybody else. People keep their promises and commitments. You trust that when somebody says they will do something, they’ll do it. And whether they fail or succeed, they fess up to their actions.
That’s a powerful idea.
When you’re accountable in the workplace, there are brilliant benefits for your daily working like and your career growth:
1. You perform better
Accountability makes you more attentive to the smaller details of your tasks, whatever they may be. This means you work harder to get a better outcome.
As speaker and author Simon Sinek says, “Give someone responsibility and they will do their best. Make them accountable, and they will do even better.”
2. You communicate better
To be accountable, you need to communicate openly with your team. So, the more you practice accountability, the better your communication skills will become.
3. You build trust
With accountability comes trust. If you’re accountable, you earn the trust of others. And with that trust comes respect, influence and success.
People will come to rely on you and take you for your word. This is a powerful thing for your career and also for you personally, as it will also build your self-respect and confidence.
4. You will be happier at work
Whether you fail or succeed, accountability means you own it. Rather than fretting about mistakes that you’ve made but haven’t taken responsibility for, you can get the support you need to ensure you don’t make the same mistakes in future. You’ll also own the wins, which means you feel pride in your work.
How to improve your accountability in the workplace
Don’t ‘try.’ Do.
“I will try” is a noncommittal phrase. It signals to others, and yourself, that you probably won’t follow through. You’re not 100% committed.
In the workplace, this isn’t good enough.
If there is any hesitation around what you can or can’t commit to, you should say it aloud from the outset. Express the concern to others and explore ways to overcome it, rather than making a promise you can’t keep.
How many times do you say, “I’ll try”? Ask a friend or co-worker to point out every time you use the word “try.” You might be surprised!
Be clear on expectations.
There’s nothing worse than being told you need to complete a task “as soon as possible”.
Does ASAP mean in an hour, tomorrow, or next week?
You walk away to start the task, but you have no idea what the deadline really is.
Being accountable means you need to be super clear on what’s expected from you. When does the task need to be completed? What are the specific outcomes required?
Goals need to be specific and realistic; if they aren’t, discuss it immediately with your supervisor or team, so that a new plan can be made
Be honest about what you are doing and where you are at
Being accountable for your work doesn’t just mean that you own the wins, it also means you’re honest about when things aren’t quite working.
Put your hand up when you’re falling behind with deadlines or struggling with a project. Rather than waiting until you’re overwhelmed and it’s too late, tell your supervisor early. Chances are they’ll find a way to help you or even extend the deadline.
Own your mistakes
You can’t expect to get everything right all the time. You’re only human, after all.
But being accountable means you’re honest about when you drop the ball, you put your hand up, and apologise.
Being accountable for your mistakes might feel uncomfortable, but it’s just as important as being accountable for your wins! Use it as an opportunity to learn. Missing a deadline can teach you to manage your time better. Making an error on an important task will show you where you need to build some skills. Forgetting a key step in a process can teach you to be more vigilant in following procedures next time.
Owning your mistakes will show your supervisors (and team) that you’re responsible and mature enough to admit when you’ve done something wrong and, most importantly, are willing to learn and grow.
This will position you as a valuable member of the team and foster trust amongst your colleagues.
Accountability sounds scary, but it’s really about taking a proactive approach to your work. This helps you build trust with others, and confidence in yourself. And when it comes to your career growth, these are game changers!