By David Officen, proCFO

I am all too familiar with productivity, as a virtual CFO with a background in public accounting. Accounting firms insist on accountability for every 6 minutes. But how do you improve this for you and your team?

In “15 Ways to Increase Productivity at Work,” John Rampton (writing for Inc.) offers a great set of tips for changing behaviour to become a more effective employee. From creating self-imposed deadlines to limiting the amount of time you allow for tasks, avoiding unnecessary meetings and minimising interruptions, Rampton’s ideas assume that you in fact want to be more productive.

Odds are, if you’re motivated enough to read Rampton’s article, you’re likely also motivated to be more productive.  But can you say the same for the people who report to you?  Put another way, are you doing what is necessary to hold your people accountable?  Do they recognise the value of increased productivity and are they willing to focus on this – above their own needs?

Carrot or Stick?

If you’re not, you’re risking the future of your business, period.  When you don’t have a plan to instill in your workers the value of accountability, you could be creating a culture of excuses, confusion and inefficiency. 

The question for managers is not whether creating a culture in which individuals are held accountable is important, but rather whether the most effective means for doing it is via rewards or penalties?  As Shawn Murphy, CEO of Switch & Shift notes;

“The question is, however, how do you turn accountability into a positive experience? Too often most of us view accountability like a slap on the hand – a result of something I forgot to do or didn’t do.”

Creating Necessary Discomfort

Turning the promotion of accountability in your business into a “positive experience” doesn’t mean that the process can, or should, be one which is easy or comfortable.  The process is positive not because it’s easy, but because you’re helping your people be more successful.  On the contrary, demanding accountability will challenge your employees to question some of their most habitual behaviours and assumptions, including the following 5:

  1. I’m a good worker:  we want our people to have pride in their work.  But all too often that pride masks a fear that a supervisor won’t take the time to understand the nature of their work or the daily challenges they face.  Said differently, pride in the workplace can distort rational judgment and the ability to fairly assess the intentions of others.  To enhance accountability, ensure your workers understand your commitment to fairness.  Show a willingness to have open conversations about the obstacles to their success and the ways to overcome them.
  2. I work hard, all the time:  this is often an excuse for laziness.  Or an unwillingness to follow through on commitments (very few of us work hard every minute of every day).  It’s a mistake to insist that people have their nose to the grindstone continually.  Rather, stress the importance to the company (and to their own success) of holding themselves to the commitments they make.  And remind them that you consider their work important.
  3. Stop looking over my shoulder:  when employees feel they’re being watched, they tend to rebel.  And for good reason.  In constantly keeping tabs on your employees’ daily performance, you’re saying that you don’t trust them.  Without trust you can’t have accountability.  Let people know you trust them to enough to let them monitor their own work.
  4. I don’t know what you expect of me:  they could be right.  It’s important to make your performance expectations clear.  And that includes specific goals and priorities.  When setting expectations, make sure they mirror what you say in your mission and vision statements.  Your company values should also be aligned.
  5. I don’t get the support I need:  when people feel unsupported they may be unwilling to hold one another accountable.  One of the best ways to encourage accountability is to create opportunities to work together as a team rather than in competition.  Give your employees projects which require mutual effort and mutual support.  This creates a culture of team-work, fosters trust and enhances group accountability.


Improving accountability is important for the success of your business.  But it can be challenging to achieve.  It requires some self-analysis and some soul-searching among your employees.  Above all, it requires an honest dialogue in which you both provide employees with the guidance they need and express a willingness to listen to their concerns and address their needs.

About David Officen

David Officen

proCFO Founder and Managing Director

David is the Founder and Managing Director of proCFO. David combines an accounting and consulting background with commercial experience both as a manager for large commercial businesses and as the owner of private and family businesses.


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