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Encourage Accountability, Listen More & Reap the Rewards


Companies need to listen more, and employees need to speak up faster when problems arise in the workplace, according to research undertaken by US leadership training group VitalSmarts.

VitalSmarts found that when three days or fewer pass between the identification of a problem and a frank, honest and respectful conversation about it, roughly AU$7,000 is wasted. However, when this process takes five days or more, employees estimate almost than $70,000 is wasted.

It’s called the accountability gap, and when it’s long, it’s extremely costly. However, when it’s short, employees are quicker to speak up and hold each other accountable. Additionally, teams are more likely to innovate, execute on plans, engage employees, and retain top talent.

“The health of a business relationship, team or organisation is a function of the average time lag between identifying and discussing problems,” explains David Maxfield, VP of Research at VitalSmart.

He said to foster a culture with high accountability, companies must provide greater social and organisational support.

“We are undergoing major, long-needed social shifts in our expectations of workplace environments, but until we build supporting structures, we will struggle to see genuine change,” says Maxfield. “Companies, in particular, have a responsibility to provide safe harbours for their employees to share concerns.”

Indeed, a lack of – or perceived lack of – social support is the primary reason people don’t speak up at work. When employees do not feel welcome to share concerns, problems, issues or ideas that might infringe on another’s territory, they keep quiet. According to the study:

  • Many did not believe others would join in support, leaving them socially stranded (45%).
  • Almost half expected retaliation from impacted parties, regardless of any laws or regulations to prohibit such actions (4%).
  • Several were afraid speaking up might damage their career, labelling them as a persistent complainer (37%).

Maxfield said to close the accountability gap, both leaders and employees must improve their dialogue skills and overcome fears – essentially, they must face problems head-on. As team members discuss problems, they must also bring insights from those frank, honest and respectful discussions to bear.

By making these processes a normal part of business, employees will feel socially supported, they will hold each other accountable, both up and down the chain of command and the practice will build on itself.

Close the Gap

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