In Green-Jakobsen we believe that managing accountability is a decisive factor ensuring that nothing is left to chance. To be effective all members of a team must show equal accountability. Only then does the chain not have a week link.

“This is not my responsibility”, “I thought somebody else was supposed to do this” – these statements signal lack of accountability. In a safety context it can have critical consequences. This article looks at the importance of accountability in relation to safety. The exercise of evaluating accountability and performance among employees is fundamental for identifying where to develop it and step up the Safety Maturity Ladder. As a tool to manage this process Green-Jakobsen has developed the Accountability Matrix to be used by leaders and organisations to recognise what behaviours they should develop and reward and what behaviours are critical, increase risk and should be managed.

The exercise of evaluating accountability and performance among employees is fundamental for identifying where to develop it

What does it mean to be accountable?

In our work life job responsibilities should be clearly defined in the job description. You undertake certain functions due to the nature of your job/position and there are systems and regulations – supporting means – that specify how, what, when and even sometimes why you should do the job. Showing accountability is actually exceeding the responsibilities and going above and beyond compliance.

Example: If we look at a football team the chances to score goals and win would be very small if everybody on the team would not go beyond their team roles. A goalkeeper who would defend his goal and nothing more would be a poor goalkeeper if he focuses only on keeping the ball out of the goal. But if he is capable of seeing how his role can contribute to a counterattack by passing the ball to an offensive player who is able to break clear, he is considered an excellent goal keeper.

Responsibility and accountability are not the same

Individuals as well as organisations must strive to develop an environment supporting and promoting joint accountability where people no longer just feel responsible for doing their own job as specified in the job description, but where they see themselves in a broader picture contributing to the success of the company – by showing accountability.

“What can I do to overcome this?”

When people or organisations are confronted with poor performance or results they often formulate excuses for why they are not to be held accountable. However loyal someone may be to his employer and how satisfied he/she may be in the job – it is likely that at some point the person has deliberately “overlooked” something or claimed that “this is not my responsibility”. People working under pressure busy dealing with other (more important?) things easily choose this path. To ensure a safe working environment nothing must be overlooked though, and to demonstrate and practise accountability instead the question for one self should be: “what can I do to overcome this?”

It is likely that at some point the person has deliberately “overlooked” something or claimed that “this is not my responsibility"

Stepping up or stepping down

The real challenge lies in lifting the culture to a point where accountability is high and becomes the general attitude – part of the culture – in the organisation. Therefore it is necessary to manage and lead accountability by evaluating the safety performance and attitude of the employees in order to gain knowledge of where to improve and what measures to take. In relation to safety the level of accountability – whether you demonstrate exemplary (high) or critical behaviour (low) – makes a significant difference to the safety culture you are part of and impact. The goal is to make employees go beyond their responsibilities, take a personal interest in their own and others’ safety and act as good role models. Employees behaving like this institute inspiration and insight, and contribute to and optimise safety improvements.

The level of accountability makes a significant difference to the safety culture

Fostering, nursing and improving these behaviours and this attitude will allow your organisation to step up. Stepping down, on the other hand, is when employees ignore and deny their responsibility, demonstrate negligence, repeat hazardous behaviour, blame someone else – or even act recklessly.

Managing accountability – using the Matrix

Determining employee accountability demands an evaluation of the following 3 key areas – Impact, Frequency and Personal Conduct. It is crucial to identify critical evaluation points representing the safety behaviour patterns that you see or want to see among your employees.

The matrix defines workplace behaviour ranging from what is exemplary (a good sample for inspiration and insight) to what we call critical behaviour (a clear case for warning and learning to all). If you work “in compliance mode” you generally do not improve or step up – however, the potential to cause damage is minor. It is the responsibility of the managers to observe workplace behaviour and log the observed events or behaviours. Consequently the manager must make the judgement of the observations using the full matrix as a guideline to deal with the consequences – ranging from promotion to suspension. The matrix ensures fair and transparent management of safety performance. It also gives leaders good guidance on what actions to take to develop employees’ safety performance and it gives employees a clear guidance on what is expected of them. In other words the Accountability Matrix provides a framework for the managers to:

1. Recognise exemplary behaviour,
2. Develop compliance behaviour and
3. Deal with critical behaviour.

The matrix gives leaders good guidance on what actions to take to develop employees’ safety performance and it gives employees a clear guidance on what is expected of them

The follow-up

As the manager evaluates and reveals the conduct of the employees it may lead to a set of rewards, initiatives or consequences depending on the evaluation result. Exemplary performance may lead to company-wide recognition, nomination for further reward and career advancement. For the compliant employees it may be considered to set new competence and personal development goals, specify focus areas and learning gaps, give correctional feedback, and provide coaching. The critical performance may lead to a written warning, identifying and agreeing on correctional actions, assigning safety training, and considering reassignment. It may even lead to dismissal.

Organisational and leadership requirements

Before initiating the process of becoming exemplary on accountability some important organisational issues have to be resolved:

There must be clear communication across the organisation as a vehicle for motivation.
Managers and employees must be empowered through competence development.
Clear performance expectations and guidelines must be in place so that roles and responsibilities are clear to all.
Assessments of employees must be aligned across the organisation.
Workable, well-functioning supporting systems must be available and introduced to employees at all levels.
Top management must show that they have a strong focus on safety culture and that they are taking the lead in improving the safety competencies of the entire organisation.

In an organisational culture with a strong sense of personal accountability employees ask themselves:

If this is the way people think they are able to show accountability for their own and others’ safety. By doing so they will keep on developing their safety competencies and become team players who are able to inspire others to excel.

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Janne Haugland
Janne Haugland
Communications and HR Manager

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