Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Accountability in action

Proper supervision,understanding of employees key to building engagement

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The issue of employee accountability has been a widely discussed topic this past year, especially when the focus of conversation is about the different generations of employees in the workplace.

It seems in many cases the younger generation of workers is perceived to be less accountable and possess a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers. To be honest, I personally don't see accountability so much as an age-related issue but rather, I see it more of a personality and motivational issue combined with poor supervision.

In my view, employee accountability means individuals take personal responsibility for doing their assigned work efficiently, effectively and thoroughly. It also means individuals are prepared to own their mistakes rather than blaming others. Being accountable also means individuals concentrate and focus on their work/business tasks during the allocated time they are scheduled and paid for, instead of "sneaking" work time to text friends, keep tabs on their Facebook account or continually checking for personal phone messages.

In most employee-accountability issues I've encountered, the individual worker had no dedication and viewed themselves as having a "job" rather than a career. They simply didn't feel a connection to the goals and objectives of the employer. As well, they didn't see and/or understand how their work contributed to the success of the company. Finally, they didn't understand how their work quality directly impacted fellow colleagues and they didn't care about where their work product went for the next stage of development.

The resulting impact of poor employee-accountability issues is often rather "indirect," but believe me, there is an impact. Typically, you'll encounter low productivity, low morale, distrust amongst workers themselves and poor managerial/employee relations. The organization will experience high turnover because productive employees will be leaving in droves. A workplace where employees are not held accountable will simply not be a great place to work.

There will be plenty of negative financial impacts as well. For instance, if a task that should take one day instead requires three days and then needs to be reworked again, the loss of time and money can be substantial. Just imagine the domino effect if the lack of employee accountability was widespread.

Yet, how does an organization go about creating and building an environment of accountability? How do you motivate employees to be more accountable or can this be accomplished? The following tips will help to move your organization toward a higher level of productivity and accountability.

Keep your job descriptions current

There is a common phenomenon in every workplace called "job creep." This means over time an employee will do more of what they want to do rather than what they should be doing. Keep your job descriptions current and review with the employee to ensure they stay on track. As well, from time to time, job descriptions need to be revised as too many unrelated tasks in one job will only result in non-productivity.

Establish minimum standards for work

Having specific work standards is not sufficient. Your standards must be the right ones for each job. Your standards must also be challenging and achievable. Examine the productivity of high performers and set a baseline, then develop performance levels for new employees, intermediately skilled employees and high performers.

Make managers accountable

Long-term, unproductive employees are the direct result of ineffective supervision. When supervisory accountability is lacking, employees soon learn they don't need to be accountable either. Train all your managers on how to set clear and measurable goals for employees, when and how to follow up and monitor progress and how to deal with performance problems.

Help employees see the big picture

When individuals understand how their work contributes to the overall success of an organization, they are more motivated to do their job well. Help your employees to understand the different departments, the different jobs and their role in creating a final product or service.

Ensure the right job match

Employees excel when they are doing what they are good at and what they like to do. Therefore, it is important the competencies required for each job are clearly defined and closely matched with the skills of each employee. As well, employees must be trained as well as provided the appropriate resources to do their job.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Employees want to feel they belong and want to know what's going on with their employer. A lack of communication pushes employees into career survival, which in turn hurts teamwork and productivity and creates personal fear and anxiety. Working in a vacuum decreases productivity.

Recognize and reward

Employees need to know they are doing a good job and they appreciate feedback from their supervisors.

Rewarding and recognizing an employee can be as simple as a pat on the back or being recognized for their work at a staff meeting. Where possible, establish a formal reward and recognition program that encourages and helps to motivate employees.

Be open to new ideas

Many times employees have good ideas on how to improve work processes, so instead of shutting them down with "no" for an answer, listen and learn. Openly invite input and ideas and be sure to act on those that are easy to implement. Invite employees to study their idea further and recommend how the idea could be implemented. Individuals who contribute are more highly motivated and will naturally become high performers with strong personal accountability.

Take a determined stand

The first step in bringing an employee back onside with respect to accountability is to provide feedback, coaching, mentoring and perhaps more training. However, should a breach of accountability continue, consequences must be applied. Confront the employee immediately and outline specific action steps to rectify the behaviour. If an individual continues with a bad attitude and is simply not in the right place at the right time, take a determined stand and help the employee move on with their career.

Survey after survey has demonstrated taking specific, steps to create a work culture that encourages employees to develop high levels of personal accountability and engagement results in strengthening all factors related to employee and organizational success. This includes higher levels of employee performance, increased employee participation and engagement, increased commitment, higher levels of innovation, higher levels of morale and higher levels of job satisfaction. As well, employee turnover will be reduced while loyalty and dedication increases.

From an organizational perspective, focusing on improving employee accountability and engagement is simply the way to go.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed. is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 H1

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