How Accountability Improves Employee Retention


High-growth companies experiencing high turnover rates can become desperate looking for solutions. They’ve outlined and communicated the company’s goals, and they’re publishing KPIs for the entire company to see.  And yet, in exit surveys from departing employees, a lack of enthusiasm keeps showing up. Departing workers say things like, “I know the company is doing well, but I don’t feel invested in the outcome.”

What’s missing is accountability. Accountability, an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions, is the bridge between the company’s operating targets and the employee’s role in helping to achieve those targets.  Without accountability, these operating objectives start to lose their meaning for the employee. Engagement wanes and your best team members, most of whom are being constantly tempted by competitive job offers, start to reevaluate whether or not your company is the place for them.

Review this checklist to determine the degree to which you’re creating a culture of accountability:

  1. Department-level management has translated company targets into clearly-defined, department-level KPIs.  Your ability to hit company operating goals is simply the sum-total of each department’s ability to hit their operating goals. It’s critical that your managers lead the process of distilling down the top-level objectives into department-level objectives. If you haven’t completed this process, the rest of this checklist is impossible to execute.
  2. Team managers have taken their department’s goals and, working in partnership with the department’s leader, have created individual KPIs for their team that supports the achievement of those goals.  Whether or not your company is large enough to have this middle layer of management, tasking the managers directly responsible for line-level employees with the creation of individual KPIs is a must.  In this step, supervisors create the connection between the employee’s activities and the company’s overall objectives. If employees don’t have individual targets, you can’t hold them accountable for anything specific or measurable.
  3. Employees know and understand their goals and commit to achieving them. This is the most important step and is where companies struggling with creating accountable workforce cultures often get off track.  It’s not enough to set individual targets. The individual has to opt-in to achieving them. Supervisors cannot merely hand a list of items to their team members and walk away. Instead, the supervisor has to ask the question, “Based on what I’ve outlined, do you have any reservations about your ability to hit these targets?”  Listen, adapt, and adjust if necessary. Once your team member has bought in, you’ve obtained their commitment.
  4. Supervisors actively discuss results with their team members in real time.  This ongoing process creates an active and engaged dialogue between the employee and their manager. I recommend weekly meetings to review results, consider necessary course corrections and agree upon go-forward plans.  The supervisor’s mindset in these meetings should be, “what can I do to support you and your ability to hit your objectives?”.  The employee’s mindset should be, “what do I need from my manager to better perform in my job and to increase the likelihood that I’ll meet my commitment?”.

For those of you looking for the one-notecard version:

  • Translate company goals into department-level goals.
  • Use the department goals to empower your managers to create individual objectives for their team members.
  • Discuss those objectives with the employee and obtain their commitment.
  • Check in frequently to review progress and make adjustments.

If you manage high-potential, high-performing team members along these lines, you’ll see that engagement on your team increases. A high engagement workforce leads to greater retention, and it’s the direct result of the culture of accountability you’ve created.