Accountability Tips

Be responsible. It’s drummed into us as children. Later as adults in the workplace, we learn another definition of being responsible: being accountable. It requires discipline, dedication and organization, and most importantly, a willingness and commitment to hold ourselves and others to task.

When accountability is missing, people don’t understand their duties or the task at hand. They often work in isolation from one another. Worker stress, burnout and reduced productivity ensue.

There are four ways to ensure accountability so you can carry out your work projects smoothly:

1. Plan Well

The key to ensuring accountability is to define tasks clearly and identify the desired results. This requires taking time to ask yourself: What exactly is needed to achieve the goal? Who do I need on board? What is the deadline and the main elements of the project?

It is important to create a preliminary timeline and work back from that deadline date to get the task done. Being able to see when the projected milestones are to be passed and to monitor project progress this way, is central to ensuring accountability. Spending some time thinking pre-project is better than diving in without gathering your thoughts first.

2. Get People On Board

Once you’ve explained the task and desired outcome clearly, it is important to include the team in the creation of the plan to execute the task. Without a well-articulated plan, those responsible for executing will flounder, waste time or at worst, deliver the wrong results. Get staff to suggest ways to best complete the task. Once deadlines are established, consider setting some milestone dates together with your team. Staff may have a more realistic idea of how long specific parts of a task may take and be the best resources in the creation of a workable timeline.

Once the pathway has been created, identify possible problems, slowdowns or potential road blocks. For example, holidays need to be factored in, as well as concerns about equipment, other projects being conducted concurrently, staffing fluctuations or other issues. At the same time, allow for unpredictable events such as staff illness. Including some time for the unforeseen is prudent when planning any project.

Many projects are planned without much staff input . This creates problems when unrealistic timelines, heavy work loads or scheduling difficulties intervene. As well, it is important to discuss with the team how they would like to reward themselves for passing both major and minor milestones. Noticing progress is important to maintaining people’s energy for the task, especially if it is a long term or complex project.

At the same time, it is crucial to identify what will happen if milestones aren’t met and the interim timeline is not adhered to. Asking how to hold team members accountable is important. In the event of a missed deadline, some may decide that a discussion with the individual is warranted to offer additional support or to request a change in the behaviour that led-up to the problem. It may be decided that this will occur at a team meeting or between the individual and the team member most affected by the lack of execution.

3. Meet Regularly

It may be tempting to give everyone a task and let them go. However, to ensure accountability and efficient execution, meet regularly to discuss project progress and to troubleshoot as issues arise. These meetings need firm agendas that ensure that people can apprise the team of their progress, discuss roadblocks, appreciate efforts and discuss what milestones are being met. It is also key to discuss what is behind schedule and why. Meeting on or close to task deadline dates is important as is meeting between interim milestone dates.

Following the meeting, be sure to write down who is doing a task, what they are required to do and when. Nailing down these elements and summarizing the “to do” list with everyone present will ensure that staff are clear on what they are being expected to complete and when.

After the meeting, distribute the summary so everyone has a record of what the others are doing. At the next meeting, be sure to review everyone’s progress on the items they signed-on for. Failing to do this signals that the “to-do” list isn’t serious and no one cares. People will believe it is not important and quickly adjust their priorities to reflect the lack of perceived interest in the project at hand.

4. Deal With Underperformance

Be willing to have candid conversations about meeting commitments. There may be a number of reasons why a commitment is not met, a deadline missed or a task is left uncompleted. These reasons can range from not knowing how to do the job, being unclear as the purpose of the task or not having the resources to follow through. However, these reasons can also be excuses for underperformance. If, after removing the roadblocks, a pattern of underperformance is maintained, it is important to have a conversation about lack of execution.

Discuss what was missed and the impact on the team and the project. Letting people down especially when their work depends on the follow-through of others creates stress. If the underperformer can’t see how their behaviour is affecting others and continues the behaviour, they may need to leave the project or the workplace.

Being accountable, executing well and on time are mainstays of any workplace. Without a plan, agreement from the team, regular meetings and a clear expectation that underperforming will be dealt with candidly, many may find themselves wasting valuable time – theirs and others’.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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