Successful business team embracing freedom and accountability.
One thing I’ve learned (the hard way) from co-founding a rapidly growing company is that without freedom and accountability, you literally cannot grow your business. In fact, without employee ownership and accountability, your business is dying. Ownership offers the freedom for employees to deliver results. It’s about them taking initiative and responsibility for their work. Where there’s an opportunity to take initiative or bring ideas forward, it happens. Best of all, employees that rate high on taking ownership think like leaders.
Accountability is the flip side of ownership. It’s about following through and delivering on everything you own. True accountability is key because there is an exponential impact (a detrimental one) to a team when one person can’t make timelines or complete work as expected. When a team exhibits both ownership and accountability, a high-trust environment is created, and you’ll see the makings of a high-performance team. Not only does ownership and accountability create higher performance, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management also indicates it results in improved competency, commitment to work, increased employee morale and work satisfaction. It’s also known to improve creativity and innovation because employees are more invested in the organization’s future.
However, according to AMA Enterprise, there is a significant lack of accountability on the part of employees. In fact, 21 percent of respondents stated that unaccountable employees make up 30 to 50 percent of their workforce. That’s crazy. Clearly, accountability and ownership are important. So, what can leaders do to create a culture of accountability that influences employees to take responsibility over their work? Here are seven ways to instill a culture of accountability:
Make freedom and accountability a lived value. Don’t just ask yourself how you can get accountability and freedom in the workplace; make employees live it! Living values and communicating values are very different. The easiest way to embed these as values in your team is to start with goals and metrics. Provide everyone on your team with their own meaningful goals and measurable metrics that align with the company’s goals. Clear goals drive many important behaviors, including accountability. Just give them the freedom to achieve their goals.
Let employees play in their own box. When leading employees, clearly establish expectations by defining what the end goal is and the results you’re looking to achieve. Highlight these goals to your employees without prescribing how to achieve them. Demonstrate that you trust employees by allowing them to figure out the course on their own. If you instill trust in them to get it done, you will empower them to succeed and take responsibility over the outcome. They’ll also find the work more rewarding, which contributes to their taking ownership over tasks.
Don’t half-delegate anything. Micromanaging leads to resentment, stifles initiative and makes employees feel like a simple cog in someone else’s wheel. The compulsion for you to micromanage results from a lack of trust in employees, teaching them that they should seek constant guidance and check-in often, even when they feel like they’re on track. It’s also very difficult to take ownership over someone else’s playbook. Give your employees an opportunity to problem solve on their own rather than doing it for them.
Manager sharing feedback with colleague during work meeting.
Let employees know why they are critical. Do your employees understand how their work contributes to the organization’s success? More than half of the leaders questioned said that only 49 percent of employees fully understand the extent that their responsibilities contribute to the organization’s success. Remember that box you drew for your employee? If you don’t connect it to organizational success, an employee doesn’t get a clear picture of the purpose of their job. Communicating how they directly cascade towards the organization’s future success or mission gives employees not only a sense of meaning and impact but also information that will allow them to improve the company.
Hone the art of instant feedback. A lot of people avoid giving feedback because they might feel uncomfortable. But you can’t hold people accountable without it. For feedback to be productive, it must be shared regularly and without delay. If this practice becomes part of the culture, your team will come to expect it and not feel that it’s anything unusual. Leaders should be expressive when they see behavior they would like to encourage or discourage. Make sure feedback is specific and focused.
Listen and help employees better their box. If employees are taking ownership of their work, it’s your job to help them do a better job, faster. You become their coach, not their manager. Creating a company culture that encourages employees to express themselves and share ideas with you isn’t easy, but listening is the first step. Listening shows that their opinions matter to the business. Let them propose a plan to you, and work with them, if needed, to make it happen.
Hold yourself accountable. It’s a bit trite, but it’s good to remind you of the need to keep yourself accountable. Doing so transforms you from being a boss to a leader. A rule applies to everyone or it applies to no one. As a leader, you must be aware that everyone is watching you, and everything starts at the top. You set the culture and reinforce the values. There is no freedom and accountability unless you also own and embrace it.
Workplace freedom and accountability “ownership” is all about acknowledging what’s on the line for your team and using it to motivate employees to achieve their goals. It’s a simple, human-based and very effective approach to achieve the company’s mission and to improve overall employee performance. By the way, when I refer to ownership, I mean ownership. Every employee owned shares of the company we co-founded.