5 Ways to Hold Employees Accountable Without Damaging Company Culture

Originally published on the Huffington Post

08/03/2015 04:39 pm ET | Updated Aug 03, 2016

By Dusty Wunderlich


Contrary to what many companies think, employees want to feel like they’re being held accountable for their work. Accountability equates to responsibility, and responsibility leads to several intrinsic motivators like purpose, significance, and accomplishment.

In other words, holding your employees accountable is crucial to keeping them engaged.

Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies anywhere between $450 billion and $550 billion every year in lost productivity; businesses simply cannot survive with turned-off staffs.

If you feel like your company falls into this category, reinforcing employee accountability is a great, but potentially perilous, solution. It involves a difficult balancing act for leaders: How do you maintain your open, limitless, innovative culture while tightening the reins and increasing employee accountability?

Here are five steps that will help you do so:

  1. Hire the right people.

Creating a culture that balances unchained innovation with accountability starts and ends with the talent of your staff. Take employee recruitment and cultivation very seriously, and thoroughly examine every candidate with your specific wants and needs in mind. Put them through a series of tests that will help you determine whether they are the right fit.

At my company, we don’t just rely on pedigrees, educational achievements, and résumés; we hire people based on work ethic, cultural fit, and rational optimism. With the right combination of talent and training, you can easily build an ideal team with every member focusing on the same purpose and goal. They’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

  • Focus on what’s right, not who’s right.

A key to finding the proper balance between company culture and employee accountability is rooted in humility and respect. Rather than being a group of individuals who all want to be “right,” your collective staff needs to be a curious group that collaborates to solve to the problems your company faces.

Your organization cannot be driven by individual egos or personalities; it needs to be a solutions-driven, cohesive unit that works in tandem toward common goals.

  • Lead with data.

A great way to maintain accountability in an open culture is having a solid foundation for business intelligence and analytics. Open cultures need to go both ways: They should provide employees with freedom and flexibility in their work, but they should also provide high levels of transparency concerning the distribution of responsibilities, successes, and shortcomings.

With a proper real-time BI infrastructure, everybody in your organization will know who’s making the most sales, delivering the best service call quality, or winning the most Ping-Pong matches. Use analytics to shine light everywhere in your organization. Your employees will feel more motivated to hold themselves — and their teammates — accountable.

  • Encourage rebellious, risky behavior.

Placing a high value on creativity, ingenuity, and courage will encourage your employees to take risks. Give them flexibility to develop their own goal-achieving methods, but provide clear performance metrics so you can keep track of their success.

This will empower employees to take calculated risks while still feeling accountable for the end result. Companies that entrust and inspire creatively risky behavior set the stage for a high level of innovation and a pleasant, respectful company culture.

  • Communicate through fun.

Although it may sound a bit cliché, communication is the key to maintaining an open, accountable culture — and it’s especially useful when the communication is fun and laid-back. Being overly formal can stifle the open dialogue that’s necessary for innovation, so mix it up by adding some fun to your communication techniques.

My company noticed some major benefits after installing a Ping-Pong table in our office. We kick around ideas while playing, and incorporating this fun activity into our brainstorming relaxes everyone and creates an atmosphere that’s ripe for open and honest dialogue. We’ve also begun playing “catch” during our daily huddles. We toss a ball to whoever is talking, and this keeps the discussion light, fast, and effective.

Implementing these strategies requires complete team buy-in; every employee must share a mutual sense of trust, respect, and determination to move your business in the same direction. Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between accountability and micromanagement. Hiring people who believe in your company and its core values will keep you on the right side of that line.

Empower your employees to be creative, but also preach and enforce a common set of goals and success metrics. Ultimately, this is how you drive accountability while preserving flexibility and openness.

Dusty Wunderlich is the founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings, a high-growth network of consumer and business-to-business finance platforms and financial technologies. Its mission is to democratize the world of finance for the better. Dusty is a current recipient of the Twenty under 40 Awards in Reno, Nevada, and is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council.