The Secret to a More Engaged Team? A Culture of Accountability

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Believe it or not, people crave accountability. We want to be trusted to do our jobs, receive feedback, earn rewards, and — yes — face the consequences when we stumble.

In fact, according to the 2015 Workplace Accountability Study, 91 percent of respondents want their workplaces to improve at holding employees accountable. And given the benefits of a culture of accountability, company leaders should want that, too.

Employee engagement — which has hovered at about 32 percent for a decade — is deeply tied to accountability. A culture of accountability helps employees see that the entire team is working toward one goal. Accountable employees feel empowered to be creative, generate new ideas, and do their best work. By holding employees to high standards, leaders remind them that others are counting on them.

With fewer than one in three engaged at work — and even fewer than that feeling held accountable — it’s time for a change. Are you ready for the responsibility?

The Micromanager’s Folly

When building a more accountable office, there’s one mistake nearly every new manager makes: confusing micromanagement for accountability.

While accountability encourages follow-through on commitments, micromanagement is a fear-based leadership style that diminishes trust, stifles creativity, and inhibits growth.

Does your leadership show these signs of micromanagement?

  • You agree with the statement “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” More than 1 in 10 managers believe half of their employees actively shirk their responsibilities. Do half of your workers really shrug off commitments? It’s doubtful, but they might if you don’t trust them to do the job you hired them for.
  • Everything needs your seal of approval. You’re just one person, so if you involve yourself in every detail of every project, you’ll bottleneck progress. If your team continuously misses deadlines, you’re probably micromanaging.
  • Every task has a template. Remember, your way isn’t necessarily the “right way” to do a job. If you’re not open to new ideas, you’re impeding innovation.

While micromanagement might get a job done in the short term, it can’t produce high-caliber work for long. Micromanaging deflates and demotivates your team — in short, it’s disengaging.

Build Accountability, Not Resentment

So if subjecting your team to hover parenting can’t improve accountability, what can? Here are five ways to improve accountability without micromanaging:

  1. Give everyday employees starring roles. Nothing says, “I believe in you,” like trusting employees with tasks normally reserved for management. Some years ago, we began involving senior sales consultants in California Casualty’s annual kickoff meetings. They chose themes, dreamed up fun skits, and cultivated peer buy-in. Now, sales consultants are responsible for about half of our company’s biggest annual meeting, and I can’t imagine doing it without them.
  2. Survey employees. There comes a time, of course, when employees need to hear difficult feedback, but that doesn’t mean it should tear them down. Spend time learning about team members so you can inspire them, not degrade them.At the beginning of each year, I survey our sales team. This helps me learn about what sort of coaching it finds valuable, bringing us both a step closer to our goals. Sometimes, you have to get before you give, and feedback is one of those areas.
  3. Let team members take risks. One truth of business is that it’s better to try things and fail than to stagnate. By giving employees the freedom to experiment, you engender trust and receive hard work in return.A few years back, some outbound representatives asked to try a remote work policy. We felt a little skeptical — such a policy was new territory for California Casualty — but we moved forward with the plan. Now, remote consultants are some of our top performers, and the program helped employees who’ve had to move to continue with the company.
  4. Make face time a priority. Although remote work is a great benefit earned by our veteran employees, there’s no substitute for in-person communication. Particularly for newer employees, team huddles help workers learn what’s expected of them and encourage dialogue — two things email doesn’t do well.
  5. Look in your own backyard. Accountable teams don’t make excuses or blame others — they ask what they can do to improve things. Our sales team has a mantra: Look in your own backyard before looking elsewhere. So instead of saying, “Why won’t the customer call me back?” we ask ourselves how we can leave messages that make the customer more likely to return a call.

No matter your business, accountability is the first domino in a vitally important chain. The more accountable employees feel, the more engaged they are. And the more engaged they are, the stronger their performance. So don’t micromanage; empower your team with accountability.

Lisa Pearne is vice president of sales at California Casualty, an auto and home insurance provider founded in 1914 that serves educators, law enforcement officers, nurses, and firefighters. Having spent 22 cumulative years with the legacy company, Lisa oversees 65 sales team members in its Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Leawood, Kansas, offices. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and administration from the University of California-Riverside in 2003.

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