Employee Engagement – Why is Accountability Important?

Dwight Mihalicz,

This is Part 2 of the Employee Engagement series on addressing the root cause issues that can be addressed to improve engagement in your organization. Read Part 1 here

The most significant finding is that Accountability is very highly correlated with manager effectiveness.

Accountability is at the heart of managerial leadership. It is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they are being held accountable for and how their outcomes will contribute to the success of their organization. If they are not aware of this, how do they determine what their most value added work should be, and where they should focus their efforts? When they need to make decisions, how can they be assured that they are making decisions that are consistent with what their managers would want?

Accountability actually has two dimensions. Both need to be understood in order to positively impact manager effectiveness.

To understand the disconnect, and how organizations have gone so wrong, it is important to realize that Accountability actually has two dimensions. First, what is the clarity of the accountability and authority that has been delegated to managers? For instance, if I am a manager, am I clear about not only what my manager is holding me accountable for, but also the authority I have for doing my work?

We call this the Clarity of Accountability dimension. As an organizational indicator, this means thinking about how well the organization can translate accountability for output from the strategic plan, through the CEO, down to each individual manager in the organization. This indicator correlates highly with a managers’ perceived self-effectiveness.

The second dimension of accountability is Felt Accountability. This concept has been written about in management sciences literature. It refers to the degree to which an individual feels he or she is accountable. It could be related to being accountable to a manager for work, or it could be other things that are not real accountabilities, but feel like accountabilities. Examples of Felt Accountability include:

  • relationships with customers
  • relationships with peers
  • project work
  • self-held beliefs

In all of these examples, these are not real accountabilities because managers are not held to account by a specified other that has the authority to hold them to account. Nevertheless, they can be quite distracting if the managers of managers do not take them into account when setting the context for doing work. Felt Accountability, interestingly, scores much higher than Clarity of Accountability.

This reinforces the perspective that people care about their work and want to do well.

The question is not whether managers feel accountable. They do.

The question is whether they feel accountable for the right things. This is the manager’s job – to be clear about those things for which they will hold their subordinates to account.

What is Measured?

The research shows that Accountability is very highly correlated with manager effectiveness. Accountability is at the heart of managerial leadership. It is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they are being held accountable for and how their outcomes will contribute to the success of their organization. Accountability is also correlated with team and organization effectiveness.

Accountability has two dimensions:

  1. Clarity of Accountability – the degree to which managers are clear about the accountability and authority that has been delegated to them. As an organizational indicator, this means thinking about how well the organization can translate accountability for output from the strategic plan through the CEO down to each individual manager in the organization. This indicator correlates highly with a managers’ perceived self-effectiveness.

  2. Felt Accountability – the degree to which managers feel they are accountable. Felt accountabilities can be related to being accountable to a manager for work, or it could be other things that are not real accountabilities, but feel like accountabilities, such as responsibilities to customers, to stakeholders, to peers, and so on.

Effective ManagersTM has developed a survey for managers – based on research conducted with the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. This survey provides a means of assessing the effectiveness of managers on dimensions such as:

  • How much accountability do managers feel they are carrying? (99% of managers in our benchmark feel they are accountable for producing an expected quality of work.)
  • How clear are managers about their accountability – for delivering objectives and for managing subordinates? (Only 46% of benchmark managers feel that employees are delegated clear objectives.)
  • How effective are your managers’ teams? Your organization? (From our benchmark: Teams- 75%, Organizations – 66%)
  • What percentage of time are your managers spending on value-added work (our benchmark tells us it is 55%)?
This is the second of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here. Read Part 3 here. Check out the Infographic here.


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Dwight Mihalicz

Dwight Mihalicz has over 40 years’ experience helping local, national, and international organizations achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and performance.
Copyright © 2018 - Dwight Mihalicz -Sage Effective Managers