4 Ways to Improve Worker Accountability

Making employees feel accountable for their actions can be relatively pain free with these best practices.  

Accountability at all levels is key in any company and should be an ingrained part of the culture.

At its core, accountability means living up to expectations and promises, speaking up when there’s a problem and owning up to (and being willing to correct) errors rather than sweeping them under the rug. Managers should not only expect it but actively encourage it.

Here are four ways a GC or manager can instill a sense of ownership and responsibility in employees and create happier, more engaged, more productive workers in the process.

Make sure workers knows what’s expected

Workers can't follow the rules or live up to expectations if they don't know what they are. For example, if project managers are supposed to notify their superiors right away if it looks like a project's budget items might exceed the estimate or if there is some other issue that could negatively affect the job, that needs to be made clear.

Workers should also understand basics such as start times, sick leave, company safety policies and how the jobsite should look at the end of the day.

Institute an open door policy and encourage collaboration

When there is a free flow of ideas and information and employees feel comfortable approaching higher-ups for advice, this helps create an environment in which accountability is the norm, said Julie Strong, chief executive officer for Dallas general contractor C1S. It also reduces the fear of owning up to a mistake.

"People trust their peers enough to say, 'I'm not perfect' and ask for help," Strong said. "They lean on each other quite a bit." 

Remind employees that while they may be hesitant to bring a mistake to the boss’s attention, sooner is always better than later (or never). As Strong tells her employees, bad news doesn't get any better with time.  

Deal with breaches of trust

Holding workers accountable when something happens is part and parcel of instilling accountability. Failure to meet expectations must have consequences.

When an employee shows up late too many times, fails to use the right PPE, takes unnecessary risks, cuts a corner without an okay or otherwise breaks your trust, have a sit-down to figure out what’s happening and why. Don’t wait for the next performance review. Use the time to offer feedback, direction and, if necessary, help, which may be in the form of further education or training or the assignment of a mentor.

Barring a satisfactory resolution, Strong said, you may need to discuss that person's future at the company.

Recognize and reward accountability

Look for ways to provide positive feedback when you see employees demonstrating accountability. Positive feedback for modeling desired behavior can be just as effective as punishment for bad behavior.

Strong said C1S has a robust award system through which employees receive performance-based financial incentives and recognition at company award ceremonies when they've met goals or exceeded expectations. "The way we recognize and reward them," Strong said, "pulls them toward accountability."