Lack of Accountability in the Workplace is Expensive, Fix It

By Cathy McCullough

dateWed, Feb 16, 2022 @ 12:00 PM

In a recent client conversation, a CEO said to me, “He’s really (really) smart, but it’s just hard to hold him lack-of-accountability-is-costing-youaccountable. On top of that, he isn’t approachable because he gets really defensive and reminds us all that he knows what he’s doing.” But in reality, the rest of the executive team doesn’t really know what this executive-level leader is doing. His goals are vague, his metrics aren’t really solid measures of success, and he statuses everything “Green” in preparation for their weekly meeting

It’s a reality that most of us just don’t want to approach someone who we know in advance will get defensive or angry, so we default to the wrong answer — which is just to let it go. There are some times when letting something go is the right answer, but in this case letting it go isn’t a solution; it’s abdication of a core leadership responsibility. Perhaps, then, thinking about situations like this differently will help. We can get so focused on how much we really want to say something to the person (and then we get hijacked by how the person will respond — ouch!) that we just let it go. The story is the same every single time…and nothing changes.  So, what is lack of accountability?  How about some accountability examples?

The Negative ROI on Lack of Accountability

Instead of letting situations like this paralyze you, perhaps understanding what you’re actually doing to your company by letting it go is a better way for you to think about this. After all, leadership is a strategic endeavor. To that end, then, what might be the business implications of just letting it go, thereby feeding the lack of accountability?  

  • Wasted Time: Your Overall Strategic Intent is Sabotaged. Without specific accountabilities, how are your people helping to move your company forward? Allowing people to simply say, “I don’t need to do this or that,” or "I know what I’m doing and it’ll be fine!”, you’re allowing people to step away from what was strategically decided was most important to accomplish. Without focus, you get chaos and a ton of frustration. The ultimate result: You lose a percentage of productivity — and the minute you take a negative hit on productivity, you’ve lost money. (You might be making good money, but you could be making even more money…) In business, time is money. Is the constant state of confusion and frustration helping you become a great company? Allowing your team members (especially your leadership team members) to go rogue and do whatever they want to do in whatever way they want to do it will not enhance higher levels of performance.
  • You’ll Create an “Us” vs. “Them” Culture. If you don’t hold people properly accountable for the attainment of certain Key Initiatives, then you’ll find yourself asking things like, “How did we miss that opportunity?” or “Why isn’t that project working like we thought it would?” You’ll create a culture of victim mentality which is fueled by everything being something or someone else’s fault. If you want to revisit a grade school playground where finger-pointing is the norm, then don’t figure out how to hold people properly accountable. What might a lack of team accountability in regards transparency, for instance, be costing your company? If you think back on an example or two, you’ll be able to see the tangible points of light that were lost or delayed.
  • Translation: Lack of Leadership Credibility. Research tells us that strained relationships cause 60-80% of organizational challenges and up to 30%-40% of a leader's time is then sucked into the vortex of trying to navigate through all these challenges. It translates into negative energy and a waste of valuable time. Leaders who refuse to understand this succumb the entire company to existing day-to-day in a cesspool of drudge. Everything becomes more laborious to do, mutual problem-solving is at a low level, decisions slow down, and more. In the end, the company has a damaged reputation (internally) and leadership loses respect. Morale is low. As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment in which everyone should come to work every single day and do what they do best. Learning how to lead people toward higher levels of accountability is a key to company renewal. Where should leaders, then, be strategically spending the bulk of their time?
  • Missed Work. Taking time off is important for mental health, stability, and clearer thinking. But taking time off to recharge your mental batteries due to living in a culture that uses ‘selective accountability’ makes a huge difference—to the person taking the time off as well as to the company. It’s hard to measure this because people probably aren’t going to really tell you why they came in late on a given day or why they want a day off, but there are costs to the interruption of work (such as others having to work overtime to get something done, etc.).
  • Lowered Quality. What you produce, whether a product or a service, is impacted when people aren’t held accountable to a certain process, procedures, systems, etc., around “how we do things.” As a result, your people can produce a dented deliverable vs. a polished one. One study reported that just 10% of a workplace conflict/frustration around a given project or function can cause that project or function to fail. When you don’t have an environment that fosters accountability, people can become frustrated due to a sense of favoritism, etc., which can lead to a ‘Whatever…’ attitude. How might you hold people accountable so that your quality increases from where it is today?
  • Turnover. Want to reduce your turnover? Look at the degree to which you’re holding people accountable for achieving certain results. Key to remember here is that while it’s important to know “what” you want to accomplish (i.e., a particular goal, Individual Priority, etc.), it’s even more important to know “how” leaders lead people toward getting those results. Another important point to remember here is that your A-Players will be the first to go. Costs vary, but the turnover cost of one employee can range from 30%-150% of the employee’s salary. Is that something you’re willing to sacrifice?

Leading a business to higher levels of success is hard work. It’s hard enough to lose money, but it’s even more tragic when you start costing yourself money. There are a lot of reasons to cultivate team accountability, the most important of which is that it simply makes good business sense.

In a related article, we share several real world accountability examples to get you started.

Download Team  Accountability Assessment


Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:

The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams leadership development program to improve team performance.

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment 

Team Accountability Begins with Personal Accountability

How top CEOs Close the Strategy Execution Gap

Building Team Accountability: Job Scorecards

10 Signs of an Accountable Culture [Infographic]

Growing Team Accountability in Your Organization

Quick Tips for Building Accountability

5 Steps to Having an Accountability Discussion [Video]

Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images 

Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images