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Hybrid working: skills for leadership
Hybrid working: skills for leadership

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2.3 Accountability

In 2017 it was reported that 72% of those surveyed globally thought that leadership accountability is a critical issue in their organisation but only 31% were satisfied by the degree of accountability demonstrated by their leaders (HRD, 2017).

Although this survey was undertaken a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic, it still highlights the importance of accountability to those within the business. But what is accountability and why is it so important?

‘Accountability’ suggests that leaders are held accountable to someone or something. There are several measures of accountability, for example business performance, which most companies prioritise. But leaders must also be accountable to company culture (stated mission, vision, values and purpose), as well as to the workforce itself.

McGrath and Whitty (2018) point out in their research paper that the concepts of responsibility and accountability have and can be really confused, with one often defining the other. It is important to clarify and define what these terms mean to avoid causing confusion within the workplace. They point out that many organisations use tools such as RACI (R= responsible, A= accountable, C= consult and I= inform). They deduced that accountability boiled down to ensuring there was liability on someone to ensure that the work was done satisfactorily.

Pechan (2021) states that accountable leaders communicate goals, objectives and key results to their team and seek to foster alignment and focus. As well as accepting responsibility when things go wrong, they celebrate and give credit when things are going well. They feel that owning your own mistakes is about ensuring accountability is developed in teams; it is not just something done by a leader.

Accountability culture in a hybrid world

This course has talked a lot about building a culture to support hybrid working, and Pechan (2021) outlines three key elements that can help build a culture of accountability in your company:

  1. Have strong company values and make sure they are communicated with your employees and that they understand them and what those behaviours look like in their roles. In a podcast, Hancock et al. (2021) said that ‘values are a core differentiator of companies that maintained a healthy culture during Covid-19’.
  2. Defined leadership model – leaders need to be held accountable to a defined leadership model. Do you know what your leadership model looks like?
  3. Team accountability – What are the expectations for your team? What should they be doing? What are the processes they should follow? What performance are you expecting from them? Giving your team the feeling that they need to be accountable means they are more likely to succeed and meet their goals and deadlines.

Accountability is important because without it a remote organisation cannot succeed (Udoagwu, 2021). The benefits of accountability, and good team accountability in particular, are that it can lead to increased employee commitment (which can only be a good thing as we go through the ‘great resignation’) as well as higher employee morale.

Accountability, trust and productivity

Accountability and trust really are key to productivity for remote or hybrid teams, because such teams are in and out of the office (physically or virtually) at different times, regularly using virtual communications and/or collaborative technology. It’s no longer unusual for full teams to have never even met in person.

You will need to have open dialogues with team members about digital collaboration, including transparency around working on collaborative documents. You may also find you have to talk about the impact of delays on other people’s productivity, whether that is joining a virtual meeting late or missing a deadline. Start having the difficult conversations about accountability early on, to start building a culture of team accountability.

The key ingredient here, and one that will be explored later in more depth, is trust. Teams need to trust each other and leaders need to trust their teams. Both will have to think about how they can bring team accountability into the mix early on in a project and make it part of the regular processes. Leaders will have to step up and be role models in the virtual/remote world as well as in the office and show accountability by demonstrating the desired behaviours and values. If you want your organisation to build a feeling of psychological safety but you only act that way in person in an office then you as a leader will need to be accountable for your actions if that inconsistent behaviour contributes to the destruction of psychological safety online. As a leader, you will have to lead by example and reward those team members that proactively embrace accountability at work (Udoagwu, 2021). Those within your sphere of influence can work with others joining the organisation to guide and teach them how to be accountable.

Accountability is going to be a habit/mission that you need to continually work on and is not a ’one and done’ effort or task.

Accountability is not micromanaging

You might at times need to take a step back and consider whether you are micromanaging rather than building accountability. If you find yourself checking in on your team, asking for constant status updates and generally ‘hovering over their shoulders’ while they work, you are probably micromanaging. If you want to check whether you are a micromanager – or indeed have ever worked with one – you can read A cautionary tale: top 10 signs that you’re a micromanager [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Son, 2014).

Accountability is a bit like being a gardener, in that you need to give your team the right environment to do their own thing, grow and perform at their best. They need the ability to use collaborative tools to communicate with others in the team and share knowledge and information. It helps them all be transparent and builds an environment of trust and clarity. Making things visible and not ‘out of sight, out of mind’, can help improve team accountability.

Activity 9 Are you a micromanager?

If you read A cautionary tale: top 10 signs that you’re a micromanager (Son, 2014), reflect now on the 10 signs and consider how many of them you feel you demonstrate in your current role.

Then write down some actions that you could take to stop doing one of these habits.

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