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When you have strong workplace accountability, you’ll know it! How do you create an organization of people behaving like responsible adults, taking mutual ownership for reaching a shared destiny? Here’s what the research says…

Promote workplace accountability formally and informally.

Formal accountability happens through planned processes designed to foster responsibility. For example: employee contracts, quality monitoring, disciplinary procedures, and performance evaluation. Formal accountability practices create an impact because they:

    • clarify expectations
    • monitor achievement
    • provide a feedback loop to increase the likelihood that work will meet key standards
    • follow deficiencies until they are corrected or addressed

Informal accountability takes place through group norms, organizational culture, and employee loyalty. Informal workplace accountability processes guide work decisions and actions, helping people differentiate “the way we do things here.” They also introduce and reinforce habits for how acceptably-completed work moves from one person or team to the next.

Research supports that the best way to promote workplace accountability is to use both formal and informal channels.

Upholding workplace accountability impacts many important employee attitudes and behaviors. 

Workplace accountability has a positive relationship with: job performance, job satisfaction, people taking on extra-role behaviors, trust, and commitment to the organization.

When people are a good fit and feel supported at work, workplace accountability leads to positive outcomes.

When we believe we’re a good fit for a company, and experience organizational support, workplace accountability is a good thing. Accountability links to higher job satisfaction and stronger organizational commitment.

For people who fit in and feel supported, clear accountability decreases job tension and depressed mood.

WD-40 Company’s CEO Garry Ridge describes a pledge for accountability within a tribe at WorldBlu’s Freedom at Work Summit:

Autonomy and confidence matter for workplace accountability.

Workplace accountability is most positive when people can choose how to do the work and feel confident in their ability to get the job done.

When autonomy and job efficacy are high, accountability is more likely to have a positive impact on behaviors and attitudes. Autonomy comes from job design – the tasks and decisions that are expected, the discretion available to the person in the role, and the nature of interactions with a supervisor or manager. Confidence is a combination of the skills and abilities of the person holding the job and the training, preparation, and resources available. 

Personality and goal orientation impact the relationship between accountability and job performance.

For people with an approach orientation – that is, those who are oriented towards success, advancement, and mastery – task and extra-role performance is stronger when there is high accountability for outcomes. Highly conscientious people also perform well on tasks and beyond under high outcome accountability.

For people with an avoidant orientation – that is, those who focus on avoiding failures and remaining at the status quo – having high accountability makes extra-role performance stronger, but doesn’t affect task performance.

Watch out for the dark side of workplace accountability.

Under certain conditions or expressions, workplace accountability connects to poor work experiences: stress, job tension, and emotional exhaustion.

For example, when people have a weak personal reputation (i.e., easily believe others perceive them in a negative way, less competent, etc.), high workplace accountability connects to strain, job tension, and depression at work.

Similarly, when people feel that they’re a poor fit at work, high accountability connects to lower job satisfaction, lower job commitment, and higher depressed mood at work.

Lastly, when people work under low job autonomy, high accountability leads to greater strain.

Support and accountability must go hand-in-hand. 

Be sure there is support for meeting objectives. In an unsupportive work context, endorsing accountability has a negative effect. In a workplace marked by politics or abusive leadership, being held accountable reduces job satisfaction and increases job tension.

Create a supportive environment for work by developing and maintaining positive relationships with team members, promoting psychological safety, and providing team members with resources needed to be successful (e.g., training, tools, technology). Then promote accountability.

© Copyright Coetic 2014-2019.  All rights reserved.  Updated 10/20/2017.

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