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August 7, 2014

How To Increase Accountability In the Workplace

employee_accountabilityAccountability in the workplace means that employees are taking responsibility for their job descriptions and fulfilling the essentials functions of their jobs. It means when they make an error, they admit it and take steps to correct it. When employees are accountable, they are engaged and take pride in their work. Their performance is consistent day in and day out. They want to do the right thing every day all the time.

It is amazing to me how many companies spend so much time and money each year on employee engagement surveys to always find out the same thing. Those who are engaged rate their supervisors and the leadership of the organization very highly, while those who are not engaged give low marks to the leadership of the organization. So we always end up with the same conclusion, employees are not engaged and therefore not accountable because of poor leadership. 

HR’s Role: How to increase accountability in the workplace

Increase-accountability-in-the-workplaceWhat can HR do to change the corporate culture to increase accountability? The answer is to change your performance management system so that you are measuring what’s important in your organization’s culture. You can start rewarding employees who do things right and recognize those who are accountable by improving the way you measure the expectations and recognizing those who demonstrate accountability.

Every organization has a mission statement and a standard set of corporate values everyone is expected to know and live by. There are often ornate plaques in the entrance and the hallways and they are in displayed in some departments or the organization. I know of organizations who give new hires wallet cards embossed with the company values that they can keep on them at all times. However, few leaders hold employees accountable for demonstrating those values. 

As an HR leader in your organization, you can change this. 

Inspect What You Expect

The corporate values should be a part of every employee’s performance evaluation and they should be graded on each one based on input from customers, co-workers, peers and managers. This information is easily obtainable through 360-degree surveys. For example, there should be a section on the performance evaluation that lists each corporate value and every employee should be ranked according to adherence to each value.

Here’s a typical set of core values for a company:


  • Treat co-workers and customers with respect.
  •  Provide excellence customer service.
  •  Be a team player.
  •  Be a good steward of company resources.
  •  Be ethical – do the right thing. 

The core values should be incorporated into your organization’s performance evaluation as a core performance element for everyone from top to bottom. Each person should be ranked from 1-5 with 5 being the highest score. If anyone is rated above or below a 3, the manager should explain the reason for the rating.

This section of the performance evaluation should be weighted high enough that the ratings received will impact the overall performance score. Those who are consistently rated above a 3 by their customers, co-workers, peers and managers should be recognized and rewarded. Conversely, those who consistently rate below a 3 should be placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP) and be given a time a specific timeframe to improve. They should also be given the tools to succeed, such as a mentor or coach to help them improve their accountability in adhering to the corporate core values.

“Men Will Die for Ribbons” 

Remember what Napoleon taught us. “Men will die for ribbons.” It is amazing how a little recognition can turn someone’s performance around. If you want to improve accountability in your organization, follow these easy steps: 

  1. Define what you want employees accountable for by including it in their annual performance evaluation as core performance elements.
  2. Rate employees’ accountability score using 360-degree surveys.
  3. Reward employees for being accountable – or help them become accountable by providing the tools they need to succeed.

Once you have implemented this accountability system, your employees will stop giving your organization’s leadership poor ratings. They will understand that they are accountable for their own success and ultimately the success of the organization.

Download FREE Ebook HR Guide to Compliance

Cynthia Thompson, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Cynthia Y. Thompson is Principal and Founder of The Thompson HR Firm, a human resources consulting company in Memphis, TN. She is a senior human resources executive with more than twenty years of human resources experience concentrated in publicly traded companies. She is also the Publisher/Editor of HR Professionals...

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