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The Importance of Accountability for Engaged Employees

Happy employees are not productive, engaged employees are. It is for this reason that we say that getting accountability in the workplace right is very important. Being a good leader is not just about caring about your people. In a work context, and in fact in any context, care that does not result in a more productive, effective and successful individual is not really care. This is why we say that care is only care if it is used with the intention of growing the person and making them better. It is no surprise then that Etsko Schuitema called his leadership model Care AND Growth.

A recent study conducted by GALLUP has shone a spotlight of the difference between a happy employee and an engaged employee. According to GALLUP, organisations falter when they think that that creating star employees is about making employees happy or content.

It’s true that enthusiastic and energetic employees feel better about their work and workplace. But engagement is not determined by soft fluffy feelings. Because of this, measuring happiness levels, as well as catering to employees’ wants, often fails to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement: which is improved business outcomes. Put simply, making people happy doesn’t in itself make them better at their jobs.

Having engaged employees however is very good for business. This GALLUP study found that engaged business units are 21% more productive than disengaged business units. This fact should really make leaders stop and pay attention.




If you think about it though, this fact is actually not at all surprising. The organisation I am working for (Schuitema Excellence Group) has been arguing for this idea for the past 30 years. GALLUP explains that when you investigate the organisations that have more success with engagement you see that they all manage to treat employees as stakeholders of the company’s future. In other words, you have to get employees to adopt a sense of custodial ownership. Firstly over their own tasks and secondly over the future well being of the company.

Getting employees to own their responsibilities in this way is about holding them accountable, i.e. making the consequences of their actions fall onto their own shoulders. Before you get to the point of accountability there are a number of things you need to do, which are well described by GALLUP. These are things such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development and promoting positive coworker relationships. We refer to these things, among other important things, as the Means and Ability.

To its detriment, GALLUP did not explicitly mention the notion of accountability. This is unfortunate because accountability is very important and has to be present for engagement to happen. The true benefit of giving all the means and ability is that doing so puts you in a position in which can start holding people accountable. If people haven’t been given the means and ability they have legitimate room to wriggle out of accountability.

Accountability is the end game and if you get accountability right you will have engaged employees. This is because they will accept that the buck stops with them, they will adopt a custodial responsibility for the quality of their own work. At Schuitema this is what we mean by mature employees, people who have taken ownership of the contributions they should be making to the company. These are engaged employees who will make the company fly.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.

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