10 Tips for Encouraging Accountability in Your Agency (and Quotes to Inspire It)

As you may know, during a recent testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the VA admitted to internal accountability issues. The reality is that there are likely many agencies—state, local, federal, public, private—around the country that could say the same. Encouraging accountability within your organization has a number of benefits. But, as you’ll learn from the 10 tips here, punishment isn’t the greatest motivator to encourage accountability. Instead, you’ll want to develop an environment within your team or office that supports accountability.

  1. Make the big picture clear to encourage employees to commit to their work. Ensure that your employees know why they do the work that they do and what the agency or team is working toward (i.e. the larger goals). You can use your vision statement or strategic plan to outline this, but it’s often better to tie it back to individuals and their personal interest in working in government. Engage your employees in their work by drawing on their intrinsic motivations. Engaged workers are more motivated to reach their goals and contribute to the team.
  2. Clearly define your expectations for each employee and the steps that need to be taken to achieve the larger agency or team goal. Using SMART goals is a great way to do this, and you will also want to make sure that you are reiterating goals in annual performance reviews (or whenever you have the opportunity!). Be sure your employees know what they are expected to do, how you’ll be measuring their performance, and the ultimate impact of their work.
  3. Offer feedback on performance, good or bad, to let employees know how they are progressing on an individual level. Also be sure to share how the team or agency as a whole is doing.
  4. Keep responsibilities clear. Tension can grow in a team when someone feels like his or her toes are being stepped on, or when someone feels that the delegation of work is inappropriate. As much as possible, let your employees know who is responsible for what. Not only does this help encourage accountability, it will also make it more readily apparent to whom an employee should go with a question or to seek information.
  5. Communicate as often as possible (and do it well). Make each of your interactions with your employees meaningful. Don’t assume that everyone read an email or remembers what happened at the last meeting. While it may at times seem annoying or repetitive, reminding employees of agency/team goals and individual expectations is beneficial.
  6. As much as possible, increase transparency. There are obvious limits on what employees at different levels can be privy to, but keep your employees apprised of what’s happening in the agency, on the team, etc.
  7. Encourage team members to hold each other accountable. As a manager, you don’t always need to be the bad guy. And often times, employees are more receptive to peer pressure. To lay the groundwork, it’s important to first develop a trusting environment in which employees are encouraged to offer one another constructive feedback. And to that end, it’s important that employees know that you trust them to work with each other on minor problems—they don’t always need to come running to you. Make sure your employees know that everyone in your agency/on your team is working together to achieve shared goals.
  8. When you have employees who are failing at reaching their goals and completing required tasks, determine why. Some people are paralyzed by fear and it impacts their work. If this is the case, how can you help the employee work through this issue? Do they require more information or assistance from another team member? Does the employee feel threatened by the work produced by others on the team? Or is there something going on in the employee’s personal life? Before you punish, try to determine what’s going on and develop a solution.
  9. Institute consequences as a last resort. If you’ve done everything you can to help make an employee more accountable for his or her work and it just isn’t happening, you’ll need to invoke appropriate consequences.
  10. Be consistent in your drive for accountability. Don’t make this a one-time effort. Eventually, it might become engrained in the culture, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to encourage accountability.

To offer a little inspiration as you’re working to increase accountability, here are some great quotes on the matter:

“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.” –Henry Cloud

“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.” –David Brin

“Accountably breeds response-ability.” –Stephen Covey

“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” –President Barack Obama

“When the people become involved in their government, government becomes more accountable, and our society is stronger, more compassionate, and better prepared for the challenges of the future.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Life is not accountable to us. We are accountable to life.” –Denis Waitley

“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” –Molière

“We are accountable for our decisions in our personal life so why shouldn’t we be just as accountable in our work life?” –Catherine Pulsifer

“A good coach will hold the team accountable for both their actions and their results.” –Catherine Pulsifer

“If we want unity, we must all be unifiers. If we want accountability, each of us must be accountable for all we do.” –Former Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire

“Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” –Patrick Lencioni

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