How to Build Accountability in the Workplace – and Why It Matters

Written by:
Afterburner Team

As a team leader, are you doing enough to build a powerful sense of accountability in the workplace? With all the turbulence in the business world today, this should be one of your strongest mandates. Teams everywhere are being forced to do more with less, and making your team more accountable means empowering them to confidently stay on top of, and take full ownership of, a growing workload.

Picture this: You’re a VP of Sales, and last quarter, your team missed your revenue target. You want to show the board that the miss was a fluke, so this quarter, every potential dollar of closed-won business matters. One day, a lead comes through the funnel and an SDR picks it up. It’s a hot lead – they’re the right demographic, they have a healthy budget, and they’re interested. The SDR reaches out to the lead, jots down some brief notes on the conversation in Salesforce, and passes it up the chain to their AE. 

The quarter ends with another miss, and in your team’s debrief, the topic of the lead comes up. The AE says they declined to qualify the lead, and the SDR asks why. The AE says there wasn’t enough information in the Salesforce notes to know if it was worthwhile. The SDR asks why they didn’t simply ask for more information. The AE responds that they were too busy, and assumed that if it were really such a hot lead, the notes would have indicated as much.

You’ve now missed your target two quarters in a row. A great lead fell through the cracks. To top it all off, your team can’t even agree on what went wrong, and have devolved into finger-pointing.

Companies often reach out to Afterburner with stories like this one. They’re getting quality leads and they have talented sales people, but they’re still seeing potential revenue fall through and missing their targets. In a surprising number of these cases, the cause of the problem ends up being cultural – it’s always good to have accountability in team environments, but too many businesses haven’t done enough to make that a key value. 

Here’s why accountability matters in business, and how leaders can create accountability in the workplace and turn revenue misses into direct hits.

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Why accountability in the workplace is key for teams of all types

Accountability at work comes when each member has a full 360-degree understanding of their individual tasks, as well as the mindset to take full ownership of those tasks. At a glance, this may sound obvious – assigning KPIs at the team and individual level, after all, is nothing new. 

But, crucially, true accountability goes far beyond easily quantifiable, directly performance-oriented measurements like KPIs. “Increase average email open rate to 15%” is a KPI. Understanding what the copy and content deliverables are for that email, and who’s responsible for delivering them, is what accountability looks like.

True accountability goes far beyond easily quantifiable, directly performance-oriented measurements like KPIs.

So what happens if your team culture lacks accountability? You end up with a situation like the one we described at the start of this article. The less accountable your team is, the harder it is to accurately diagnose the root causes of the issues you face. Even worse, it leads to finger-pointing when things go wrong, which negatively impacts your team in a whole host of areas, from morale to interpersonal relations and beyond.

How to build accountability in the workplace and empower your team

When we help teams tackle accountability issues in our seminars and workshops, we start with one key principle: Driving accountability starts with smart, rigorous planning and briefing. If leaders can establish everyone’s tasks and deadlines up front, they’ll take the ambiguity out of identifying root causes and weak points when execution falls short. 

Here are some steps to get you started:

1. Distribute task ownership

Start by assigning ownership of all action items and logistical matters throughout your workflow. Make sure everything is accounted for, but that no individual team member is too task saturated.

2. Communicate

Then brief the team, either individually, as a group, or both, to make sure everyone knows their objectives. Conduct regular one-on-one or group check-ins – not just for updates on progress, but to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks.

During these check-ins, try to take a collaborative tone. You’re not cracking the whip, you’re making sure each team member has everything they need to succeed and has all the necessary action items on their radar.

3. Don’t lose sight of the importance of teamwork

Remember one thing: Assigning individual task ownership does not mean neglecting or avoiding mutual support, one of the key values that Afterburner helps teams instill in their culture.

An accountable team is still a collaborative one – individual accountability is merely the main ingredient in a broader team accountability, which should be your ultimate objective. Team members should always feel comfortable reaching out for assistance when necessary and possible.

4. Beware of burnout

With businesses strained by resource cuts amid recent economic turbulence, many teams are left with fewer people to handle the same volume of tasks and hit the same objective. If leaders aren’t careful, emphasizing accountability in this environment can lead to burnout.

Make sure you stay empathetic and attentive to the needs of your team members. If you see task saturation setting in, be willing to roll up your sleeves and take on certain tasks yourself.

If leaders can establish everyone’s tasks and deadlines up front, they’ll take the ambiguity out of identifying root causes and weak points when execution falls short.

Let’s revisit the scenario from the beginning of this article. This time, let’s imagine that the SDR had been explicitly trained to write robust Salesforce notes after each call, and that the AE had been trained to always connect with their SDR after making decisions around lead qualification. While there are no guarantees, this could have given the SDR a chance to make a case for the lead, which could have persuaded the AE to qualify it, potentially leading to more revenue and pushing the team across the goal line. If the lead still fell through, it would be easier to pinpoint the dropoff point and prevent the same issue from happening again.

Accountability in the workplace is non-negotiable for teams looking to turn last quarter’s revenue miss into next quarter’s direct hit. Get in touch to learn how Afterburner can empower your team to build a powerful shared sense of accountability and win.