What is accountability and how does that translate into the workplace?

A basic definition of accountability is how an individual or organisation justifies their actions to others and takes responsibility for the outcomes.

It sounds like a heavy, negative thing, but accountability builds trust and cooperation within the workplace and with clients. It can also help to stop an error in its tracks before it snowballs into something much bigger.

We’ve boiled it down to a few basics to help set you off in the right direction.

Be consistent – Don’t treat one employee, colleague or boss differently from others. Leave biases at the office door when you walk in. If you want people to be transparent, they have to know that they are on an equal footing with everyone else.

Be open – Be ready to explain how you reached a decision. This helps others to understand the impact of individual actions and how they fit within the bigger picture. Equally, most people work better at a task if they know why they’re doing it. Share your reasoning if you can.

Be honest – If you slip up, own up, don’t cover up. Employees and employers alike, we all mess up from time to time. Errors are usually exposed eventually, whether you admit to them or not, but if others know that you will take responsibility if you make a mistake, it builds trust in your competence and reliability.

Be approachable – Ultimately, every individual has to be willing to be accountable. You can’t force someone to be honest or to own up to their mistakes, but you can foster an environment where they don’t expect to have their head taken off at every tiny error. If your colleagues know they can expect an appropriate, measured response, they are more likely to be candid with you.

Be accountable! – Above all, set an example. Don’t be a hypocrite – model the behaviour you wish to see in others. You’d be surprised how far that can go.

Want to take it further? See our Employee Training page for Employee Accountability course