How to Foster a Culture of Accountability in Your Company

Kayla Naab
July 15, 2019

There’s a lot of talk online about company culture. We postulate how companies can improve their culture for lower employee churn, and we dabble in the culture of collaboration or how leaders can impact culture.

However, the definition of company culture, and specifically what it means to have a “good” culture, is unpronounced. If we define culture as the atmosphere of the office, we are really discussing dozens of contributing factors. Culture factors might include styles of collaboration and communication, leader and employee attitudes, infrastructure and company hierarchy, morale, and more. 

While we can’t - and shouldn’t aim to - control employee personalities or hire on personality alone, we know that personalities impact the atmosphere at work. While disagreements are inevitable, one of the biggest sources of conflict at work is who’s doing all the work and who’s doing none.

Adjacently, teams often arrive at conflict when somebody drops the ball. The minute stress runs high - during tight deadlines, or while serving choosy clients - the culture can get toxic. The antidote is accountability.

The 5 Facets of Accountability 

To mold your company culture around ambiguous buzzwords like “collaboration” or “creativity” is moot. Unless you have a clear definition for what those things look like in practice you’re really just building your culture around a motivational poster. If instead you aim to actually impact the lives of your teammates and work in a feel-good safe space, center your culture around accountability.

Accountability is clearly defined as the act of being accountable and extends to holding others accountable. In a culture of accountability, you are responsible for your work and I, mine. This sounds simple - implied, even - but it isn’t always so easy. 

Here are the 5 facets of accountability and how you can use them to create a culture of accountability in your company:

1. Building Trust

In many companies, employees don’t feel that they can safely express that the workload is too much, that the time limit is too short, or that things aren’t going well. In a culture that champions mutual trust, employees will feel safe to be transparent. This transparency allows them to be honest when they make mistakes, when a test fails, or when the deadline won’t be met. While these aren’t desirable outcomes, the ability to see where things have fallen and the accountability toward fixing it, will make all the difference.

2. Setting Ownership Boundaries 

The blame game gets played at work more than you might think. It isn’t just workplace troublemakers or lazy employees pointing fingers. Because we’re all so busy at work, it’s easier sometimes to drop a task on someone else’s plate or take less blame for something going awry. When it’s clear who is (and isn’t) on the hook for a given deliverable, the blame game is put to rest. Better yet, when something falls through, you have an accountable party to lean on when making things right. 

3. Demonstrating Value

It might seem like the underachievers at work are all just lazy but mostly, that’s not the issue. Most people work really hard and do their very best when they see value in what they’re doing. This value might be monetary, or tied to praise, but often - just knowing that your work will positively impact the larger project, the client, or the employer is enough. The opposite is also true - when we don’t see value in our work, we care less, and accountability is forsaken. 

4. Illustrating Reciprocity

Accountability isn’t just for individual employees, but for teams as well. Work to create ongoing visibility into what everyone does at the company and how it impacts the team. When employees can see how a late assignment or poor workmanship affects the collective, accountability is being taught. 

5. Modeling Integrity

Companies with integrity attract leaders with integrity. Leaders with integrity model that integrity for the whole team. If leaders can illustrate diligent and consistent work and business ethics through their actions and advice, it will set a clear precedent for the rest of the team. Employees quickly learn through their leaders what is expected from them in terms of efficiency, professionalism and, of course, accountability. And, by having your leaders actively model your values, rather than simply writing them into your business plan, you create a culture of equal and visible accountability throughout your entire organization. 

How Office Managers Can Help Create A Culture of Accountability

Office managers play a key role as a through-point for any organization. Regardless of the specifics of a given office manager’s duties and responsibilities, an office manager will always be viewed as a pillar among his or her co-workers. Often an initial go-to for any number of questions, concerns or controversies, an office manager has significant influence on the atmosphere of their respective offices. This can especially be the case for newer employees that will have more questions than most during their initial onboarding. 

Few roles are as far reaching or as integral to the day-to-day functions of your business as the role of an office manager. This requires nearly constant communication with different members of your team throughout the day. The right office manager will understand the significance of how he or she communicates with co-workers and clients alike. 

An office manager may also be required to personally hold employees accountable for their actions. Having an office manager with the awareness and integrity to identify problems and address them firmly and effectively is a great step towards instilling a culture of accountability within your company.

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