5 strategies for teaching accountability in the workplace

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“Are you working hard or hardly working?” This question often gets a chuckle. Unfortunately, it’s less humorous as it has become increasingly more difficult to find hard-working help. Many employers are challenged daily by the frustration of lackadaisical attitudes of their personnel, which is seemingly contagious and complicated by the expense of constant turnover.

One corporation in particular was crippled with what could be called a stress-leave epidemic. It began when one sales executive complained to their Human Resources Department that they were under too much pressure to reach their sales goals and consequently their doctor recommended they take some time off for health reasons. The company policy granted six weeks, which coincidentally (and conveniently) started the week before Thanksgiving and ended just after the New Year. This person’s absence increased the responsibilities of the other team members to service that employee’s current customers, which in turn resulted in a domino effect of more so-called necessary stress-leave cases.

As if the impact of this cancerous situation wasn’t bad enough…every position was required to be held and in each case, entire commissions were paid to the original sales person! To add insult to injury, the first offender of this crisis, invited all of their co-workers to a holiday party that admittedly was planned as a result of not working, as it provided adequate time to prepare for such an affair.

The company’s policy could be considered problematic, but in legitimate situations and when not abused, the benefit opportunity is quite generous. It’s the misuse of plan that is extremely disturbing and the lack of conscience on the part of the abusers that is inexcusable.

The most puzzling factor in this scenario is that considering the current state of the economy and the unemployment rate at an all-time high, it would seem that people should be grateful to be employed and therefore perform above and beyond the call of duty to maximize their earnings and secure their position. Instead, the opposite is often true- many choose to hardly work and some even find ways to work the system and essentially not work at all.

Can accountability really be taught? Granted, a small child can certainly learn to take responsibility for their own actions through positive example and consistent discipline. On the other hand, a person of working age needs encouragement as opposed to training.

Effectively motivating employees to be more accountable stimulates an optimistic focus on both results and attitude. There are several ways to establish a comfortable, non-complacent environment, including:

Focus on coaching vs. managing. Too often management operates by means of intimidation rather than motivation. Just as customers are more inclined to buy from people they like, employees will typically work harder for a boss they respect more than fear. Coaching is the art of showing, not just telling. In addition to building better employer/employee relationships, learned skills encourage a more committed focus than just dictated tasks.

Set challenging, yet attainable expectations. Being stretched promotes growth but being overwhelmed causes anxiety. Finding a balance between requiring responsibilities that are progressive without being incredulous will enhance accountability and confidence.

Provide incentives for productive activity in addition to end results. Rewards given for reaching a goal or completing a duty are great, but there are benefits to recognizing effort as well as accomplishment. To acknowledge a positive action through incentives is a subliminal way of encouraging productive behavior. Activity becomes habit and affirmative results increases conviction.

Dedicate time in department meetings to recognize excellence. Team meetings typically cover “housekeeping items” that could be easily communicated through email. Instead, using this forum as an environment to edify activity rather than to cover mundane information offers a terrific opportunity to recognize accomplishment in areas of attitude and activity. The impact is two-fold. To hear praise is terrific but to be praised in front of associates is awesome, while it subconsciously raises the expectation bar.

Commit to replacing complacent behavior. Neither party is doing the other a favor by hanging on to something that’s not a good fit. In many cases, a decision to terminate an inadequate performer results in a better outcome for both people where the terminated employee finds something more appropriate for their professional needs and the employer fills their position with someone much more qualified for the requirements of the position. It’s a win-win situation.

There is no advantage in the association between an unfulfilled employee and/or a discontent employer. As the saying goes, ‘If it ain’t good for everybody it ain’t good for nobody!’ In an effort to gain a mutually beneficial working relationship, commit to being accountable, then encourage and expect accountability and take the necessary action when either is missing from the equation. The result will offer a return on investment for both parties.

Diane Ciotta is the founder of The Keynote Effect, where she presents a passionate message of accountability and encourages activities to conquer complacency. As a professional speaker with more than 20 years of sales training experience, she is also co-author of the book, “Pushing to the Front,” with Brian Tracy. For more information, please visit www.thekeynoteeffect.com, e-mail di[at]thekeynoteeffect[dot]com or call 732-672-7942.

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