How Do You Get Your Finance Team To Become And Remain Accountable For Their Own Work?

Accountability. A management buzzword, with a serious point

Accountability, or the condition of being accountable (for one’s own work) is widely considered to be a crucial to individual, and team, high performance. At a simple level, if you, or one of your team, feels the “buck stops” with them, the likelihood is the task will be delivered. Not only because accountability, when done properly, makes expectations of delivery clear, it also promotes a sense of “ownership” of the work being delivered. Being made accountable for a task, or deliverable, also engenders a sense of being “recognised” as capable of self-management, which not only breeds high performance, it breeds employee engagement.

Accountability promotes high performance and employee engagement, but it also promotes helpfulness, another desirable team outcome. In Francesca Gino’s recent HBR article, ‘How to Make Employees Feel Like They Own Their Work”, she illustrates that providing individuals with ownership of their work “satisfies basic psychological needs we all share as human beings”, and when that need is satisfied, individuals become more generous, and more likely to help others if they feel needed.

Therefore, it’s a no-brainer to say that we want our teams to feel accountable for their work. Why is it then that we have all struggled at some point to foster a feeling of individual accountability in the teams we lead? In addition, it’s particularly common in new managers – but why? And what can you do to promote accountability in your team?

#1 Cultivating an environment of accountability starts with creating an ideas culture

Creating an environment of accountability requires you to step back from setting the task as the task “owner”, and instead focus on eliciting the actions you want to see out of your team to achieve common goals. As a new manager, the tendency to “manage” is strong – and often this translates into an manager-ownership and team-delegation model for ideas. Resisting this temptation, while focusing on how to construct the right structures (meeting slots, brainstorming sessions, regular reviews) and a positive culture (receptive to all suggestions, bad and good) to promote ideas and engender ownership for initiatives is essential.

#2 Achieve clarity in expectation, and consistent follow through on agreed actions, without micromanagement.

The next critical point here lies in transforming an idea into an action that the team member takes full ownership for. Seek clarity in what they’ve promised to deliver, investigate or plan, with measureable outcomes, and create a timeline with check in points as appropriate. Be positive in the purpose and potential outcome of this initiative and offer any support required. Then – crucially – step back. If you’ve created the right conditions, the team member will feel not only accountability, but a desire to fulfil the objective to help you, and the team, succeed.

Interestingly, this process can be as simple as just a shift in mindset. In Gino’s study she cites a study in which she collates data from a group of employees, split into two. In this study, she asked one group to think and write about an idea of project they owned and the other group just to think and write about their job role. Then she asked both of these groups to help out with another task, with no extra pay. Not surprisingly, the group that had been tasked with thinking about ideas and ownership more freely offered to help.

What this shows is then even in a fairly arbitrary context, even a small shift in the way people think about things can alter outcomes. So, next time you’re trying to engender a sense of accountability, think about who has the “ownership” first

Read more: Gino, F., “How to Make Employees Feel Like They Own Their Work”, HBR

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