Are Your Employees Sabotaging Your Company’s Accountability?

Published: Jan 24, 2019

We all know what it’s like to be promised, “I’ll get back to you on that question,” only to never hear another word. Likewise, we’ve all dealt with colleagues who take credit for others’ achievements, salespeople who don’t stand behind their products when problems occur, and bosses who pass the buck far more often than they stop it. Chances are, when you come across these situations in your daily life, you chalk them up to customer service slip-ups, leadership breakdowns, personnel issues, and poor communication.

But you can often trace these problems back to something much more serious: A lack of accountability.

When employees behave with a lack of accountability, their actions hurt your bottom line, whether that’s through low personal productivity, alienating coworkers and customers, or something else. The good news is, if you’re vigilant and proactive, you can catch and handle these accountability issues before they grow into “customer service problems,” “leadership breakdowns,” and so on.

If you’re a leader, it’s your job to hold your people responsible for what they do and don’t do. That means rewarding behaviors that help your company grow and promptly addressing those actions and habits that have a more negative impact.

In our new book, Culture Without Accountability—WTF? What’s the Fix?, we examine what can happen when businesses, teams, families, and individuals shirk accountability. The book is full of real-life stories of what accountability looks like and what can go wrong in its absence. It offers a proven process for installing an accountability-based culture, a platform for success in business and in everyday life.

Here, we share six types of accountability-sabotaging employees to watch out for:

The cavalier promise maker. We’ve all dealt with this person. “I’ll make sure I get back to you tomorrow.” “The product will be delivered by Thursday.” “Of course we can handle that order volume.” Do these comments sound familiar? For the cavalier promise maker, it’s easy to promise someone the moon (especially if that promise makes the speaker look good!), but follow-through is a different story entirely.

If someone in your organization fails to meet his commitments more than once or twice, he lacks accountability. Customers who didn’t receive what was promised will take their business elsewhere, or, even worse, take to the Internet to spread the word about their bad experience.

The feel-good tagline spouter. “We put the customer first.” “Your best interests are our best interests.” “We’ll go the extra mile for you.” Sure, these assurances sound good, but only if they are supported by your employees’ actions. Watch out for individuals who spout platitudes while leaving customers unsatisfied. 

Employees—and by extension, companies—who put their own convenience before that of the customer will see a rapid migration of their customers to other suppliers. Your organization is accountable to its customers, and it’s crucial for your people to take that obligation personally. That means standing behind the product and taking ownership of any problems that crop up, regardless of inconvenience.
The thunder stealer. Chances are, you know exactly who this person (or people) is in your organization. Odds are also good that she isn’t popular. After all, nobody is fond of a coworker or leader who steals others’ ideas and presents them as her own! Sure, she might say, “Brilliant idea—great job!” to your face, but the next thing you know, she has incorporated that “brilliant idea” into her presentation to the board and claimed all the credit.

This one really drives us crazy. It’s a clear accountability breach because the person in question is breaking the trust of her colleagues and representing herself dishonestly. If you don’t nip these behaviors in the bud, you’ll lose a lot of great employees who are sick and tired of working with their thunder-stealing colleagues, and you’ll damage your bottom line in the process. Employee turnover is a huge hidden cost of doing business.

The “indispensable” tyrant. We’ve all had this boss, too. He (or she) is the person on whom the CEO relies to get the sales the company needs to meet its goals each quarter. Trouble is, he treats everyone like dirt in the process. Screams, yells, insults, even threatens—no tyrannical tactic is out of bounds. The CEO may know (or at least suspect) that this leader is overly harsh, but lets his bad behavior slide because of the mistaken belief that he is “indispensable.”

Whether it’s codified in company policy or not, leaders should develop, challenge, and motivate their teams in a way that doesn’t tank their morale. When tyrannical behaviors are allowed to continue, disillusioned employees eventually take their talents elsewhere, costing their former employers a fortune to attract and train a successor.

The chronic latecomer. These are the people who screw up meetings, upset customers and suppliers, and give your company a bad name because they’re consistently tardy. You don’t necessarily see the financial impact immediately, but it’s all too apparent after your clients call you unreliable and go elsewhere.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons why even the most responsible person might be running late: A fender bender, a sick child, an unfortunate coffee spill, to name just a few. And, yes, everybody gets a pass on this one from time to time when life’s curveballs happen. But if it happens again and again with the same person, you’ve got a problem.

The white liar. When this person doesn’t want to spend time giving feedback, he says, “That PowerPoint looks fine to me,” even though he knows it’s on the bland side. Or when he knows he won’t be able to meet a deadline, he emails the client and claims to have been out of commission for a few days due to the flu. “Do you mind if I take a few extra days to complete the project?” he asks. “I want to make sure that I deliver the best possible work to you.” 

The white liar probably thinks he isn’t really hurting anyone with his fibs, but of course, that isn’t the case. Anytime an employee’s lack of total honesty impacts the quality of his own work, someone else’s work, or a client relationship, he has shown that he lacks accountability.

Next time you think that a lack of accountability doesn’t have a price tag, just look at this list and think again!