It’s not always easy to know whether your team is doing everything you ask them to. How do you know everything is on track? Are you sure your team is taking care of every responsibility?

Accountability in the workplace, in short, refers to your team members taking responsibility for their actions and for the tasks they’ve been assigned.

This post covers 4 key areas which pertain to managing the accountability of employees:

  • Communication and company culture
  • Productivity
  • Clear processes and workflows
  • Oversight

When managing a team, you’ll have your own approach to leadership and to scrutiny. Some people are hands-on micromanagers who keep continually updated and monitor all activity. Others are more hands off and provide their employees with space to operate and make their own decisions.

Which path you take depends on you and depends on the specific roles of the employees you manage, but we’ll attempt to provide you with a series of resources to help you either way!

Employee accountability is a matter of life or death

One of the earliest studies of employee accountability in the field of management studies is Peter Drucker‘s 1967 The Effective Executive.

It is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone—and especially any manager—who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupts the others.

Build a company culture around communication

Keeping up strong lines of communication is important in every facet of management.

Whether you contact someone every half hour by approaching their desk or you only have a weekly skype call, how you execute your communication strategy will have an effect on the level of engagement and focus of your employee and affect the standard of work they produce.

Michael DeFranco, founder and CEO of Lua writing for The Next Web, describes how they use communication to tackle employee accountability:

I’m a firm believer that this workplace problem is solvable by ensuring channel and message alignment. For example, email, while distributed and somewhat magical, is not the right channel for a question where a word or two will suffice. It’s also not the best channel to send a message for which you need an answer stat.

DeFranco recommends Slack as one of the tools to keep your business running smoothly. Slack has largely cornered the team communication niche and is growing rapidly, landing a valuation of $3.8bn and launching its own fund to accelerate third party development of bots and apps on its platform.

With Slack you achieves 3 key things:

  1. It allows for everyone to be easily contactable whether they’re on their computer or on mobile, in an individual message or a group one.
  2. In doing so, it keeps transparency within the company high. You can always see what others are up to and what pressing concerns or decisions are occurring.
  3. Because all team communication is happening within my Slack channels, my email has become usable again. I can now process my emails properly rather than having to spend forever sorting through them.

By maintaining regular contact and fostering transparency through the technology you employ, it’s much easier to create a company culture which is centered around openness and togetherness.

The nature of open team communication also helps us encourage peer learning. Cultivating an environment where employees feel comfortable – and are encouraged to be – asking questions has resulted in learning curves which are shortened so fewer mistakes are made. Pasting work – or the Trello card for that work – into a Slack channel for team review adds an extra layer of eyes to review processes resulting in greater scrutiny and higher quality.

Excellent company communication encourages accountability through participation and facilitates accountability by making targets and requirements clearer.

Help your employees boost their productivity

For employees to be accountable to the company, they have to be able to be accountable to themselves.

An employee is more likely to hit their targets and accomplish all they’ve been asked if they’re working with strong personal workflows and high productivity. The prospect of corner-cutting is greatly increased if work is being completed in a last-minute panic.

There are two central elements to getting work done. One is structural and related to the workflows within the company, and the other is personal and relies on individual accountability.

According to Dr Jones, writing for SuperhumanEntrepreneur, the first step in boosting productivity is health:

If you’re feeling tired, lacking energy or finding that you are experiencing an afternoon slump each day then you wont be reaching your potential performance level and are likely not being as productive as you could be. Energy levels have a massive impact on productivity and so prioritizing your health is a vital first step to increase productivity.

Encouraging good health in your business is important, but it’s also useful to recommend productivity techniques which can help your team accomplish more. Depending on the nature of the tasks, certain productivity techniques – like the Pomodoro technique – could be beneficial to increasing focus and output. While I’m writing, I avoid going in a Pomodoro direction, opting instead for larger chunks of time. However, in a previous life when I worked in Sales, I found the ’25 minutes on 5 minutes off’ structure of this method to be a great way to maintain high-intensity bursts.

When it comes to tools which can help you implement this system, Pomello is a good option. Pomello integrates a timer with Trello so that sections of 25-minute bursts are hooked up to your tasks directly. It allows you to tie together your productivity structures and your task management.

Another tool used by a couple of members of our team is [email protected]. This one’s all about ambiance. [email protected] has a broad selection of themed playlists you can choose to play while you work. They’re all engineered to provide you with lyric-free background music conducive to focusing and blocking out distractions.

This is just a small sample of the myriad of tools available on the market for improving personal productivity and you can find more productivity tools here.

Making sure your team members are able to work at the pace necessary to get work done in the company is the first step to encouraging accountability in following the stated processes and workflows they need to operate by.

Processes and workflows make every task clear

As DeFranco explained, at the core of employee accountability from a manager’s perspective lies clear communication of what you want from your employees.

We’ve looked at how communication in general terms can function within a business. But communication of specific tasks requires something more than the occasional chat. Implementing strong processes and workflows across your team is the easiest and fastest way to make sure all employees understand what they should be doing and when.

If you want employees to be accountable, lay out the various items they are accountable for in the clearest terms possible. Kevin Daum, writing for Inc, explains how he makes sure each set of tasks he allocates to employees are fully documented on paper so that everything is clear and nothing is missed:

Include space on the page for a timeline, motivation and consequence. Make sure the action steps are clearly spelled out and put a space for resources required and questions to be answered. Leave nothing to chance and remove all excuses.

Fortunately, there are now better tools than pen and paper to create these easy to follow processes.

In a technical sense, the difference between a process and a workflow is that a process is a series of related tasks to complete a certain goal, and a workflow is the combination of processes with resources and materials – including staff.

A process might list the various steps I carry out when I come to write an article like this one. It starts off with researching, then writing, then editing, formatting the article.

However, if we were to break this process up into sections and allocate those sections to different people, we would have a workflow. The writing section can be done by me, the formatting can be done by a junior editor, and the final approval and publishing – along with sending out to our mailing list – can be done by a senior editor.

Having a clear process which we run every time we come to publish an article forces us to hold ourselves accountable even before someone else does.

And you can’t say you missed it or forgot.

Because that would mean you didn’t follow the process.

Your job is to follow the process.

Oversight lets you double check progress

According to Warren Tanner, as a manager, you always need to be the final approval point to make sure employees are held accountable. You holding them accountable will lead to them holding themselves accountable.

With the blog article example, we can see a number of stages where moments of accountability occur.

Firstly, there will be peer review where writers meet to discuss the development of their work and their ideas, conferring with each other in order to improve their work.

Second, there will be the submission of a draft for review to check the article is heading in the right direction and receive approval.

Thirdly, there will be the presentation of a final finished version of the article for ultimate approval prior to publishing.

These are different areas of the larger workflow within which the pre-publish process sits.

This workflow is designed in such a way as to build review and accountability into itself. The individual writing the article is accountable for their work with clear deadlines and well-documented processes to follow. The broader team are accountable for not just their own work, but providing that the work of their colleagues is also up to a reasonable standard. The manager is given multiple occasions to hold each individual accountable as part of this communication workflow.

This reporting gives a manager the ability to look deeper into an employee’s work, if they choose, to gain a clearer understanding of what has been done and when. This use of monitoring through technology brings an element of the panopticon into the process, encouraging workers to hold themselves accountable as they know their progress can be scrutinized at any time.

If you really want to go further in this direction, there are multiple task tracking tools like Toggl or TimeDoctor which track employees’ activity and screenshot their work at intervals to make sure they’re doing what they say they’re doing.

Processes hold people accountable

Ultimately, the convergence point between oversight, communication, and productivity lies within the process.

  • A well-constructed process breaks a larger task down into manageable chunks and sets out a clear path to follow. This boosts productivity.
  • A well-constructed process is good practice in communication as it explains expectations to an employee and ties them to other workers when included in a clearly documented workflow.
  • A well-constructed process provides oversight throughout as it ties work directly to expectations and includes peer review in its flow.

How you structure your business to accommodate for employee accountability is up to you. The details of your process will represent your idiosyncrasies as a manager.

With a strong process in place, you can provide both a support structure around your employee and a reasonable level of autonomy at the same time.

How do you manage employee accountability in your business? Let us know in the comments how you’ve handled different experiences!