7 Ways Leaders can Build Personal Accountability in Their Employees – and What to Do About It

Have you written off an employee as unmotivated? Did you decide you were going to pay less attention to that person because you didn’t see it worth the effort? Did that person show even less motivation afterwards? Did you hope they would leave before you’d have to go through the process of firing them?

A person’s internal motivation is similar to personal accountability. We ask a question in our Orgametrics┬« Assessment about whether the employee holds themselves accountable to meet their goals and objectives. A translation of that is whether you are motivated enough to do your job and do it well.

There’s an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review by Monique Valcour that speaks to how leaders play a decisive role in building up, or tearing down, motivation and personal accountability.

Managing, instead of leading, ‘unmotivated’ employees usually becomes a vicious circle. The manager sees an employee become less motivated. They might try to build them up. But, they quickly choose to not bang their head against the wall and withdraw. The manager says to himself, “if the person can’t motivate themselves, there’s nothing I can do”.

Once withdrawal occurs, the employee notices the lack of attention, or even ambivalence, and becomes even less motivated.

We usually expect to see reasonably high scores for our personal accountability question, especially with our education and law enforcement clients. We are regularly surprised how low some of the scores come back in this area. We see this as more of a leadership issue than a personal employee issue.

What are factors that lead to a lack of personal accountability?

  • A culture where employee lack a way to make their voices heard. Their ideas are not valued. They don’t see their work as valued.
  • The work is not challenging and has been reduced to doing certain things certain ways and not doing them only leads to criticism.
  • Employees feel like they are out on an island. We, as human beings, are dependent on one another. We are social beings. If we, as leaders, don’t do enough to make people feel like they are part of a group, they will act to protect themselves.
  • The job has become boring. When people aren’t learning and gaining new knowledge, they can feel like they’re just going through the motions.
  • The culture and environment isn’t fun. An environment that adds stressors rather than positive energy wears on people.
  • Goals and objectives, and their connection to the mission and vision, are not clearly defined and are not reviewed regularly.
  • There might be something personal going on in their life that’s impacting their work. Nearly 20% of Americans in the workforce have a diagnosable mental condition.

Raising a group’s personal accountability and addressing an individual’s personal accountability and motivation are intertwined.

Start at a High Level

Initially, concentrating on what could be done at a high level is a good place to start. Working on communication, teamwork, empowerment and leadership will help with accountability. Steps you can take include:

  • Look at yourself, as a leader. Is a group’s personal accountability issue on them as a group, or on you in terms of the environment and culture you and your leadership are setting forth? When you realize you can have a big impact on accountability, you can open up the floor and listen to your teams.
  • Listen to your teams. It may take a few conversations to get people to open up, depending on the level of comfort employees have with bringing their feelings forward. You will likely dig into a variety of topics, some procedural and process driven, some leadership and development driven.
  • Work with your leadership and employees to identify initial accountability development plans and then work with them on implementatoin. Circle back frequently to check on incremental progress.

The vicious circle mentioned above does work in the other direction, meaning the positive change will feed on itself.

Progress from the Foundation

Once you’ve established a new baseline of personal accountability across the group, look at how certain individuals who aren’t progressing as quickly are connected with what is going on. Their issues may be an indication of continued group feelings. They also could, with more of a turnaround, be a marvelous beacon on how accountability has risen. If they are changing, this must be working.

While you are on this journey, add in how the group can hold themselves accountable. Joint accountability feeds alignment momentum and strengthens the bonds across an organization. Employees are more committed to the mission and they are more committed to doing it the right way, together.

Stick with It

Given the right process and consistent effort, you should see accountability increase. Communication will increase because you’ve included the general populace on how to become more committed to the mission. Creativity increases because employees have become a part of the process and their voices are being heard. Personal empowerment will be impacted because employees don’t feel like they are micromanaged as much and are allowed to act on their own. Leadership sentiment will definitely increase because you opened yourself up to the possibilities and then acted upon them in a positive way, no matter how the feedback made you feel.

Lastly, with all of these Orgametrics┬« alignment components getting better, your organization will be more effective and the performance metrics you track will show improvement because there’s much less wasted time finding ways to not to a good job.