4 Tips for Improving Accountability in Your Firm

Improving accountability for yourself and your management team means high returns for your business as everyone is working toward the same goals. When you communicate the metrics and goals used for improving accountability with your team, there’s less conflict since everyone understands the expectations associated with their performance.

Chances are, you saw the issue of improving accountability mentioned in books, shows, and movies because those in leadership positions, such as business owners, know they must improve accountability to succeed. While it’s a harsh reality that some business owners are truly not accountable for their actions or mistakes, it’s something you should try to avoid at all costs. In general, it’s just not a good thing for anyone in your organization to avoid being accountable to shareholders, employees, customers, or, frankly, any stakeholder of the business.

You damage your relationships with stakeholders if you don’t make everyone accountable for their actions. As a leader, especially a business owner, you must be accountable for yourself as those reporting to you look to you for guidance into what is acceptable. But, what actions help with improving accountability so you’re more effective? Here is exactly what you need to know!

first year of business

Improving accountability

An article in Forbes states the sad facts about accountability,

93 percent of employees don’t even understand what their organization is trying to accomplish so they can align themselves with that goal. Additionally, 85 percent of leaders aren’t defining what their employees should be working on. And 84 percent describe themselves “as ‘trying but failing’ or ‘avoiding’ accountability, even when employees know what to fix.

So, what is accountability and why do organizations struggle to make their organizations more accountable?

Accountability, which most of us learned at an early age, involves taking responsibility for our actions. As a child, we might end up on time out for hitting a sibling, or as an older child, we might end up with a bad grade because we didn’t study. These negative consequences teach us to improve accountability for our actions. In an organization, a lack of accountability can snowball through the organization leading to failure. Teams showing accountability perform at higher levels, are more engaged, and show higher compliance.

But, improving accountability starts with communication. Unless team members understand expectations, they can’t be accountable for their actions. Let’s start with this aspect of improving accountability.

Communicating expectations

Setting a deadline

Setting a deadline is a great way to stay on track and finish your work. Not only can deadlines motivate you to take action, but they can also affect negotiation outcomes and consumer decisions. However, it’s important to set realistic deadlines for yourself and others on your team. When you involve your team in creating reasonable deadlines, they’re more likely to stick to the schedule necessary to meet the deadline. Participation increases buy-in.

Involving your team in setting timetables also means balancing the needs of the business with that of its people. Tight deadlines create stress and a manageable amount of stress spurs action while too much stress cripples the organization.

Recognize your team may face deadlines from multiple stakeholders. For instance, customers have expectations that may conflict with your own. Or, other departments need a team for their own projects. The team is in the best position to know what expectations they face from stakeholders so involving them allows them to voice these expectations to prioritize their work.

Setting manageable goals

Having a set of meaningful goals is a good idea, and many methods exist. Setting the right goal is important but getting there takes some dedication and persistence. One of the best ways to do this is to set the proper priorities. Getting a handle on what is important and what isn’t is a good way to keep your business on the right track. This might include hiring a Salesforce integration company to reach one of your goals of getting more sales. Just reach out, create obtainable goals, and inform the team about them.

Getting regular updates from your team

Building a team is more important than ever in today’s fast-paced business. As a business owner, your people are accountable for achieving the goals and meeting the deadlines you set for them (hopefully with their input, as mentioned above). Getting regular updates from your teams helps you manage ever-changing situations. If you ever worked on a project, you know the goals and deadlines involve certain uncertainties you can’t plan for in advance. For instance, a team working to produce a marketing campaign may face delays when the graphic designer is out sick and doesn’t have the images ready in time to launch the campaign. Or, you have a launch date for a new product that gets delayed because the outsourced manufacturer suffers a strike by its workers. Such delays are unavoidable but the quicker you learn of the delay, the better prepared you are to accommodate the delay. This is where project management software is invaluable. When teams religiously enter information into the software program, everyone involved in the project knows immediately when someone encounters a snag that delays the completion of portions of the project assigned to the team. PERT charts (like the one below) trace the critical path to help identify when a delay impacts the delivery date for the project.

organizing digital marketing

Contingency plans also limit the damage potentially caused by slippage in the project. For instance, a client once told the story of a strike at the plant that supplied potato chips that comprised a combo meal at his restaurant. The plant owner, in an effort to limit damage to the relationship with the restaurant owner, contacted another company that could supply chips to the restaurant in the event of a strike. When the strike happened, the restaurant owner continued offering customers the combo without any impact from the strike. Instead of damaging the relationship, this contingency plan salvaged a more committed working relationship between the restaurant owner and the chip factory because the owner knew he could count on the factory to have his best interests at heart. Once the strike was over, the restaurant owner switched back to the original chip factor.

Owning up to your mistakes

Having the courage to own up to your mistakes is an important part of being a leader. It is an indication that you are a person of integrity. Admitting fault is also a way to gain the trust of your clients, which helps build a loyal customer base. The best way to own up to your mistakes is to explain your actions, why you made them, and how you plan to fix the issue so mistakes don’t happen in the future. This transparency allows your clients to see that you are a person of integrity who works hard so you don’t repeat the same mistake.

You should also make promises only when you can keep them. Overpromising and underdelivering is a sure way to disaster. It may also lead to fines as such overpromises can violate laws designed to protect consumers.

Overall, just being willing to admit to your mistake is also important for rebuilding trust and creating a better working relationship. People are hesitant to work with someone who has made a mistake before, but if you’re honest about your failures, communicate them to customers as soon as you learn of potential harm to the customers, and communicate steps you plan to take to improve performance in the future, you limit the damage. For instance, installing GPS trackers along with your shipments allows you to anticipate a late delivery. Notifying the customer about anticipated delays allows them to make accommodations for the delay. Better yet, offer a small compensation for their inconvenience. If a delivery delay is anticipated in time, you might even redirect another shipment so as to inconvenience a large customer as little as possible. This is especially advantageous when you can redirect a delivery with an early anticipated delivery date to satisfy the customer who faces a late delivery.

Create a culture without blame

The blame game is a zero-sum one where everyone tries to shift blame to someone else in the organization and does nothing to fix the problem. Instead, create a culture where teams work together to solve problems rather than affix blame to one team or another. Take a step back when the organization encounters a problem. What factors contributed to the problem? How can the organization reduce the impact of these factors to improve performance?

For example, Johnsonville Sausage Company experienced the problem of leakers — packages of sausage that allowed air to enter the shrinkwrap, which shortens the lifespan of the product. Rather than blaming workers, the owner passed the problem to the teams responsible for packaging. They investigated the problem to find that the night shift wasn’t cleaning the equipment properly, leaving a film of fat on the equipment that interfered with the sealing process. The team updated the cleaning process to emphasize the right way to clean the equipment and ensured the night shift understood how to clean properly, thus improving accountability. The problem disappeared.


Improving accountability starts at the top with collaborating to set goals and expectations, communicating those goals effectively, and working together toward achieving the goals rather than blaming someone else for every failure.

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