Confessions of an Operations Guru Turned Legal Ops Novice, Part 1: How to Increase Accountability in the Workplace
One operational struggle of just about every office is accountability. Who is supposed to accomplish something, when, and how. Accountability is created through clear lines of responsibility, well documented processes, and clear communication. Employees who are unaware of how to accomplish a job, or are not certain whether they are responsible for a task, cannot be held accountable for the success of failure of a project and can often feel adrift, confused, or frustrated with their work.
Creating accountability can better your employees work balance, ensure success for your teams, and improve your bottom line when things don’t slip through the cracks.
Clear Lines of Responsibility
When lines of responsibility aren’t clear, dedicated, high capacity employees often pick up the slack and accomplish tasks meant for others. This increases their risk of burnout, results in important work slipping through the cracks, and can lead to tension and frustration within your staff.
Employees can take advantage of lack of clarity and pass on blame to others when they fail to accomplish their own work. Recently, we received a note from one of our clients letting us know how ALOE’s documentation and assignment features helped resolve a dispute between two of their staff members:
Employee A took over a project from Employee B four months before the project deadline. When the project failed, Employee A tried to blame it on Employee B. Employee B produced the entire history of the project by referring to the associated ALOE ticket – this documented that Employee A had insisted on taking over the project and showed planned elements from Employee B that would have made the project successful if they had been carried out. Without this documentation, and the clear lines of responsibility it communicated, this dispute would not have been as easily resolved.
Not only do clear lines of responsibility resolve disputes and enable leadership to provide relevant feedback based on an employees success, they also improve the work lives of your employees. Especially in this remote work environment, visibility into an employee’s assigned work and what a team needs to accomplish is critical. Solutions like ALOE that assign work to employees and can easily report on progress help managers celebrate employee success and identify who needs help and how to provide it.
In order to know where responsibility falls, you’ll need well-documented processes. By outlining what needs to be done and which persons or teams are best suited to accomplish each task, employees have a resource they can refer to for instructions on how to complete a task and where they fit in to the flow. These processes are important because you can’t always rely on organizational structure and job descriptions to provide clarity to employees on what they are responsible for.
Processes reduce ambiguity, which improves employee work lives. At one of my previous positions, the organization did not have any documentation on how departments worked together on shared projects. When I came in and started leading inter-departmental projects, I started by asking who is responsible for each task. It took me two days and 9 different people in 4 departments to identify who is supposed to send a specific email to realize that every staff member was so afraid of doing something wrong that, when an unfamiliar task came their way, they acted like it was a beach ball they were trying to keep in the air. If they got it far enough away from them, they wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Once we were able to document some of the processes – and have their managers confirm that they would be responsible for the work – it was much easier to get the work done because the system became more about passing the baton in a race than keeping the beach ball in the air (and away from you).
Employees might need additional information in order to successfully complete an assigned task. While they are responsible for getting the information needed to properly execute an assigned task, managers and project leads should be available for questions and to fill in any gaps in knowledge for the employees. Employees who are empowered by their leadership to do well are more likely to stay with their companies, and clear communication will make a big difference in project success and employee retention.