A woman in a wheelchair sits with a group of employees and discusses ways to improve employee accountability at work.

How to Hold Employees Accountable


Boost company morale and employee accountability in the workplace with these tips on how to hold employees accountable.

Accountability is essential to running a successful team. When employees take responsibility for their actions, behaviors, performance and decisions, it's not only beneficial for their job satisfaction, but it can also improve morale across the entire workplace.

Fostering an environment of accountability is no easy task, however. Especially with more teams migrating to remote workspaces and work—from—home environments, leaders may be concerned that a lack of in—person oversight might drag down employee accountability. Thankfully, the best tips for improving accountability aren’t about micromanaging workers at their desks in the office—they’re about maintaining clear agreements and alignment through effective communication (virtual or otherwise).

Here are some insights on fostering a more accountable team.

Set Goals and Create an Environment of Respect

In his book The Accountability Revolution, Mark Samuel—CEO and Founder of coaching and consulting firm IMPAQ—writes that "accountability means people can count on one another to keep performance commitments and communication agreements." Accountability at work, then, is only possible when employees have clear objectives and agreements in place.

Performance commitments are an important place to start. Leaders should define goals for their departments and teams, and make those big picture objectives clear to all employees involved. Leaders should also work one—on—one with individuals on their teams to define how each team member’s role and contributions align to the group’s larger goals. This is essential as team members can easily lose motivation if they don’t understand what commitments they’re working toward, or why.

Team members should also understand what’s expected of them in terms of interpersonal interactions. In both remote and in—person work environments, accountability requires respect for other people. Leaders should act as role models for their employees by treating team members with kindness, politeness and courtesy (and intervening to address any disrespectful behavior on their teams if it arises).

Track Progress and Check in Regularly

Keeping teams accountable to commitments and agreements doesn’t mean setting goals and letting team members figure out the rest for themselves. It’s important for leaders to trust their teams, but not to the degree that employees work entirely in a hands—off manner.

For any key project, leaders should stay plugged in to their team members’ progress. It’s important to define check—n points on progress toward goals—ideally from the very kick—off of the project—and to use check—in time to discuss any roadblocks employees are facing. Leaders then can, and should, help clear those roadblocks so their teams can succeed.

Clearing roadblocks doesn’t necessarily mean taking over tasks on the project. It’s more about coaching: Leaders should speak with team members about what their specific challenges are, and provide feedback to assist employees with conquering those challenges themselves (if possible). Doing so helps bolster employee accountability by improving workers’ confidence that they have both the authority and the support they need to accomplish their goals.

Foster Open, Honest Communication

Accountability in the workplace requires not just respectful interpersonal interactions, but also clear and effective communication. If employees feel uncomfortable speaking up about problems in their work (or with their coworkers), they can grow increasingly disengaged and less likely to take ownership of their actions and decisions.

Leaders should foster an environment of honest, open communication by speaking frankly with team members about their challenges, soliciting employees’ advice and feedback, and facilitating group discussions. (These efforts can take place in—person, or through videoconferencing). It’s not always about being positive: When leaders encounter instances of poor performance, unmet expectations, or a lack of collaboration among project teams, it’s important they address it right away—with a response appropriately weighted to the issue—in order to show their employees that accountability matters.

Showing that accountability matters requires leaders to stay true to their own commitments and agreements, too. Leaders should demonstrate self—accountability by making their own individual goals known to the team and seeking out employees to help them achieve those objectives.

Acknowledge and Reward the Wins

Some leaders might believe that in a highly accountable environment, team members simply complete their tasks and to—dos as expected and move on to the next ones on their list. But when high—performing employees aren’t acknowledged for their efforts, it can lead to burnout and disillusionment.

Leaders who fail to recognize well—performing employees and reward goal—achieving behaviors put themselves at risk of experiencing employee burnout and turnover. Leaders should always acknowledge and celebrate the completion of big picture team objectives, and should take time to thank and reward (both formally and informally) team members who meet or exceed their individual goals.

It’s also important to acknowledge the "almosts." Teams and individuals tasked with ambitious goals may not achieve them 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean that employees’ contributions toward those goals should be ignored (as that can damage team morale). Upon the completion of any project—even those that come up short on desired outcomes—eaders should review what happened and acknowledge the individuals who helped move the needle forward throughout the initiative.

A More Accountable Workplace, Wherever You Are

Embracing remote work (or hybrid in—person/work—from—home models) requires an enhanced focus on keeping team members accountable. It’s up to managers and other leaders to carve out the time and space necessary to connect with team members, review what’s on their plate, and acknowledge the wins they contribute to the team. Taking a hands—on approach to communication, goal—setting, and staying up—to—date on progress is the best way to build trust and drive performance on the back of employee accountability.

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