By Mattson Newell (@MattsonNewell), director for partners in leadership, and an expert and author on breakthrough communications, global human resources, and talent development

You may recognize the importance of accountability in general -- but when it comes to integrating it into your day-to-day operations, where do you begin? Focus on these four areas to foster a happier and more productive workplace grounded in personal accountability.

1. Clarify the Top Results the Company Must Achieve

In our Workplace Accountability Study of over 40,000 employees across industries, a whopping 85% of survey respondents indicated that they did not have a clear understanding of their organization's top three to four Key Results, which we define as the results that are strategically critical to the success of the organization.

Given this data, it's no wonder that 72% of respondents claimed that they were holding people accountable, but rarely with success. Lack of clarity contributes to a lack of accountability in the workplace. What's more, 50% of those surveyed claimed to dislike accountability because they didn't know how to effectively implement it. How can employees demonstrate accountability without a clear understanding of what the company is trying to achieve?

We recently met with the CEO of a large healthcare organization. In our initial meeting, we asked him what the organization's Key Results were and if every employee could name them. He proudly responded that the company was very clear on what the Key Results were, and indeed, everyone knew them -- because just the month prior they had distributed a three-page handout outlining all 132 results!

Limiting the number of Key Results is imperative. After rigorously analyzing the list, it turned out that most of the results were not Key Results but rather tactics or KPIs that could serve larger goals. We helped him whittle the list down from 132 to The Big 4. The value of this was that he is now able to focus the organization around these four outcomes that are critical to the company's success; and employees are able to remember them without having to refer to a cumbersome three-page handout. This is how you focus an organization and begin holding employees accountable for performance.

The bottom line: the most important thing you can do as a leader to build a more accountable organization is ensure that everyone understands what results the company must achieve.

2. Connect Employees to Results for Higher Engagement

Keep employees focused by ensuring that everyone understands how their individual contributions directly impact the achievement of Key Results.

81% of those surveyed cited an inability to follow through on commitments as the biggest problem they experienced with coworkers. Why is a lack of ownership so prevalent in large organizations? When employees don't feel that what they do matters to the company's success, they disengage with their work. Employees who skirt their responsibilities, letting others pick up the slack, detract from what could be a high-performing company culture.

Re-engage employees by connecting expectations to the company's Key Results. Recognize when employees positively impact the Key Results. If there is still a gap between what an employee does every day and the results the company must achieve, reevaluate expectations to better align actions to results.3. Ask for and Give Feedback in the Workplace Every Day

Keeping the feedback loop open is critical for successful companies. It is a primary mechanism for employees at every level in the company to listen to and encourage new ideas. It gives leaders critical information to clear roadblocks or adjust expectations before it's too late to make a difference. Most importantly, this approach nurtures trust and respect by giving everyone in the company a voice.  

Create a healthy attitude towards feedback exchanges by giving as much appreciative feedback as you do constructive feedback. It's easy to fall into the trap of giving feedback only when something goes wrong -- but this establishes a pattern in which employees associate feedback with failure or punishment. Given this negative association, it's no surprise that only 20% of survey respondents indicated that they actively seek and offer feedback. This is a huge miss for companies seeking to innovate and stay agile.

4. Encourage Risk-Taking in the Workplace to Create Trust and Collaboration

When a problem arises or a project fails, fear of punishment tends to incite negative employee behavior. More than half of organizations admit to playing the "blame game" when something goes wrong, and only 20% of survey respondents viewed risk-taking as a strength.

Rather than resorting to finger-pointing, build a culture of trust, collaboration, and transparency by encouraging calculated risk-taking rather than discouraging ideas that aren't guaranteed to succeed. Sometimes the only way to succeed is to fail fast and engage in creative problem-solving. Even when risk-taking doesn't lead to the success envisioned, it contributes to a healthy culture of learning.

Bringing It All Together

As a leader, foster a Culture of Accountability in which employees:

  • Understand the top three to four Key Results the company must achieve
  • Take personal accountability at work for fulfilling their responsibilities
  • Are comfortable giving and receiving feedback
  • Confront obstacles creatively and collaboratively
  • Take ownership and ask, "What else can I do?"