“By making your employees more accountable, you make your organization more productive.”

Those words from famed General Electric CEO Jack Welch still ring true today.

Holding people accountable for results is the foundation of an organization’s performance; it’s management 101. Yet it appears there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Why do some organizations succeed at instilling accountability as a core element of their culture and others fall short? What can leaders do to enhance accountability? Our research on top performing companies identified five actions that have the greatest impact on an organization’s ability to enhance accountability and achieve results.

1. Translate Strategy into Specific Objectives.

Beyond developing a shared picture of the company’s strategic direction it is necessary to clarify priorities and translate these into specific department goals. This increases the likelihood that implementation plans will be targeted toward high impact outcomes. In addition, clear department goals facilitate goal-setting at the individual level, to boost accountability.

2. Coordinate Actions Across Levels and Work Units and Follow Up on Progress.

Coordinating and monitoring activity is a critical aspect of execution and is an essential ingredient for enhancing accountability. It’s how companies keep people focused on high-priority goals and actions. The most effective leaders are ruthless in monitoring goals and reinforcing appropriate actions and behaviors.

3. Provide Accurate and Timely Information to Employees.

This involves clear communication about strategic priorities, as well as ongoing dialogue between managers and their direct reports. Goal setting and coaching are key elements of most organizations’ performance management systems, yet too often, this is viewed as an administrative, HR-driven activity, rather than a tool to help achieve results. When managers view performance management as a tool to drive business results they are more successful in enhancing accountability.

4. Ensure Your Actions are Consistent with Company Objectives, Values, and Priorities.

Leaders can’t expect people to trust or follow them if they are not willing to live by the same values and support the same priorities that they require of others. If leaders expect people to be accountable, they must model this behavior and take swift action when people fail to deliver results.

5. Clarify Expectations and Head off Potential Problems.

Effective managers use three simple techniques to drive accountability:

    • Clarify exactly what needs to be done
    • Establish a specific date for when the task needs to be completed
    • Agree on checkpoints to review progress

These actions are based on three fundamental premises:

  • Never assume people know what’s expected of them. Even experienced employees may not know what to focus on unless these expectations are clearly articulated.
  • Don’t just talk about ideas. Avoid the pitfall of talking about an idea, but not agreeing to actions and accountability.
  • Don’t ignore when someone has dropped the ball. It is critical to provide timely feedback and help people understand what caused them to miss a commitment and, even more importantly, identify what they will do differently next time.

While it is not easy to enhance accountability, it is critical for business success.

Like any other essential leadership skills, managing accountability is a competency leaders can learn and improve upon. OnPoint offers training programs to help leaders develop this skill and many others.