The hybrid and virtual world of work poses many challenges for leaders. One of them is creating a culture of accountability and responsibility. Some leaders still think that accountability is synonymous with personal presence in the workplace. This outdated notion has been completely overtaken during the pandemic period. People have proven that they can succeed in a remote work environment. The world of work is evolving rapidly. Therefore, leaders need to develop skills to create a culture of accountability. Here are some measures you can take as a leader:
#1 Security and trust are decisive
Accountability starts with safety. Employees must feel comfortable telling their managers that they cannot cope with a task without fear of being reprimanded or punished. An atmosphere of trust is essential. An environment without psychological safety undermines a culture of accountability. If leaders do not trust their staff, they will micromanage and control them. And if employees do not trust their leaders, they will not communicate. Leaders lay the foundation for accountability by building trust. This can be more difficult in a virtual environment where they cannot see each other’s body language. Then there are some leaders who are cautious out of habit. They will not trust their team members until they show that they are trustworthy. In today’s world, leaders need to take extra measures to ensure that their employees feel psychologically safe.
#2 Praise often
Accountability and engagement are interdependent. One way to create engagement is to praise your employees when they do something well. Most managers believe that they praise their employees often. However, research shows quite the opposite: employees believe that their managers do not praise them enough. People are programmed to recognise dangers and to dwell on negatives. Therefore, the ideal ratio of praise to criticism should be 5:1. Praise five times and criticise once. When leaders criticise, it hurts more than they might think. To counteract this natural tendency, a generous portion of praise is necessary. It is crucial to give honest and nuanced praise, for a specific goal that has been achieved or for a positive behaviour. Also celebrate progress that the employees or the team makes.
Self-confidence is a prerequisite for task mastery, and recognising your employees’ successes will help them develop the confidence they need to tackle more difficult projects. Delegating interesting tasks is an important way to build accountability and encourage employees. Clearly express how proud you are that the person has reached a new level of expertise. Regardless of who you exchange feedback with, your attitude as a leader is crucial. Never behave in a way that can be perceived as punishment or belittling. Make sure your staff knows that your goal is to help them win. This helps to maintain a culture of accountability.
#3 SMART – Goals create accountability
With SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals, everyone is better at and more able to take responsibility. Employees need to know what is expected of them and SMART goals can keep them on track. You can help your staff achieve their goals by showing them what success looks like on a particular task. This is especially important if you are not meeting face-to-face.
Regular reviews are also an important part of helping them achieve their SMART goals. If you and your team members are in the same place, you should have a face-to-face meeting at least every fortnight. If your team is virtual, you should meet with each person more frequently – at least once a week. People working in a virtual environment need this. It ensures alignment of tasks and goal achievement, prevents feelings of isolation and creates accountability.
#4 Know your body language
Our digital body language, evident in all our communication, influences accountability. The words we use reveal our intentions, our attitude and our feelings. But often we don’t take enough time to make sure we are understood. In fact, emotions in emails are very often misunderstood. Leaders therefore need to be much more conscious of what they say and how they say it. Every communication should also have a human element to show that you care about your employees. Here’s a little tip: never send a text message or an email without reading it through several times. Ask yourself: “Am I saying what I want to say clearly? Am I conveying my point of view and the reasoning behind it? This way you can ensure that you have effective digital body language that creates a psychological safety that is necessary for accountability.
#5 Be available
Their availability and responsiveness are key to creating an environment of accountability. In a virtual or hybrid environment, they are even more important than in a face-to-face workplace. When you share a workplace, others can see what you are doing and therefore know when you are busy. In a virtual environment, a lot of information is not available to us, so we can come to any conclusion we want. When managers don’t respond to important emails for several hours, it can shake employees’ trust in you, which has a negative impact on accountability. One way to avoid this type of miscommunication is to set standards with your team. For example, discuss what response time is reasonable and expected. Reach a clear agreement and make sure everyone sticks to it.
#6 Good leadership creates accountability
The changing world of work requires new ways to create a culture of accountability – especially when many leaders and their staff are no longer in the same workplace. But good leadership will inspire people to take responsibility. And when that happens, your team will reach new heights of success!