9 Tips to Improve Workplace Accountability

9 Tips to Improve Workplace Accountability

Teamwork is Essential - but Success Hinges on Individual Accountability

A Harvard Business Review survey shows nearly 50% of managers are poor at managing accountability. The survey also found that this problem is experienced in all levels of leaders, from managers to the C-suite. That is a shocking statistic considering how much accountability relates to the bottom-line.

Accountability is one of the most important competencies to achieve organizational success. It is easy to create a business case around the importance of accountability but it can be challenging to build and maintain a culture of accountability. Organizations that embody an accountability mindset and culture are more productive, experience less turnover, and earn higher profits.

Accountability Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum

Job performance and the success of a team rests on three pillars: Accountability, Responsibility, and Empowerment.

Don't expect people to behave accountably if they aren't given responsibility - ownership - for their work. And little demoralizes faster than giving someone responsibility for a task or project without empowering them with the authority to get the job done.

Let's examine each pillar:


Accountability is my willingness to accept responsibility for my actions. When I act accountably I take ownership of getting things done, overcoming obstacles and accomplishing goals.


Responsibility is more about the tasks, the details, the particulars of what specifically I am responsible for getting done. I need to know what’s expected of me and how much budget I have to work with. I need to know whom I can go to for help and when I have to have it all done. In a nutshell, the questions to ask myself are, what do I need to do, for whom, and by when.


Empowerment is the confidence that I have the power to do what I need to do in order to fulfill my responsibilities. I need the authority to make decisions, and have the training and the skills needed to execute the plan. I also need adequate resources to complete my tasks. Do I know how to get this done? And, do I have the right level of control and authority in order to do so?

9 Tips to Promote Accountability

1. Set an example for your employees to follow

This is crucial. You must take ownership of commitments and projects. Do what you say you will do.

If failures occur, step up and accept responsibility. Show by your actions that a setback is an opportunity for improvement. Your employees will learn to trust and respect you. They will soon be confident in following your lead.

2. Empower capabilities

Provide positive feedback and encouragement to the employee so they feel confident to accomplish a given task.

3. Provide feedback

Check-in briefly with the employee to ensure that they are on track to accomplish a given goal. Listen for gaps or discrepancies and offer suggestions to help the employee overcome challenges. Questions to ask yourself are: what is the employee doing well, what needs to change, how can they get back on track, what help do they need going forward to ensure success, and when do you and they need to meet again?

4. Identify Consequences

Discuss the positive and negative consequences that are associated with the employee’s responsibilities and ability to do their job well. For example, talk about how missing deadlines impacts the team’s success.

All team members must be held to the same standards, even the boss’s best friend, even the boss.

5. Remove the fear of failure

Many people associate accountability in the workplace with failure and discipline. When there is an error don’t be overly harsh. Rather, focus on how the error occurred and create a new plan.

No one thrives when they are afraid; it only creates more stress which can result in falling behind on assignments. Let employees know that it is okay to make mistakes so long as they are doing their best and asking for help.

6. Set clear expectations and purpose

Draft clear, written, specific and measureable key actions or milestones with time and resource constraints identified. Make sure everyone on the team knows exactly who is expected to deliver each part of the task. Explain to everyone on the team what is specifically expected of each person.

Describe what the completed project should look like by offering examples and asking each team member if they understand. Show your team what good looks like.

7. Provide tools to accomplish the task and encourage collaboration

Ask the employee what they need for the successful completion of the job. Help prioritize if necessary. Encourage your employee to connect with fellow co-workers to help them accomplish their goal.

8. Measurement

Empower your employee to identify how they will measure their performance, report on their progress, and provide you with the result of their measurements.

9. Demonstrate trust and encourage responsible risk taking

Give team members discretion as to how they utilize time and resources. If you want to see innovation and growth, inspire employees to challenge the status-quo and try new things without consequence.

accountability: group of firemen
Photo by Nico Franz

Related Module:

Create a Culture of Accountability

Further Reading

ZIPPIA: What is Accountability in the Workplace? (With Examples) - Chris Kolmar

Accountability: The Key to Driving a High Performance Culture - Greg Bustin