The digital revolution is well underway, and workplace expectations have fundamentally shifted with the integration of online communication, workflow, and project management tools in daily operations. Not only do these tools enable remote work and flexible working hours, optimize real-time communication, and increase visibility into progress toward topline objectives. By and large, technology has equipped organizations with the tools they need to create greater focus around organizational goals, thrive in competitive markets, maximize speed-to-market, and drive greater year-over-year performance.
However, research from the American Psychological Association (APA) confirms that while workplace technology has improved employee productivity and positive relationships between coworkers, there are a number of potential obstacles that can arise when organizations mishandle digitalization. In fact, approximately one-third of Americans experience difficulty unplugging from work and believe that technology has increased their workload.
In this respect, technology can threaten to blur the barrier between employees’ work and personal lives, reduce clarity around expectations, lead to decreased levels of employee engagement, and accelerate burnout.
Employers who strategically select digital tools that promote a culture of accountability leverage technology in the workplace in a way that empowers members of an organization to engage more deeply with their work and contribute to greater overall performance.
Creating a Culture of Accountability with Digital Tools
Company culture is defined by the beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors that — whether explicitly or implicitly — convey which attitudes and actions are acceptable and encouraged within the organization. A culture of accountability, then, is a set of shared beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that are driven by personal and team accountability. According to the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, accountability is the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.”
Leaders who inspire beliefs that inform accountable decision-making have greater success building a culture of accountability in the workplace in which every employee makes proactive and productive decisions that contribute to the achievement of desired results.
A consistently useful framework, the Partners In Leadership Results Pyramid conceptualizes desired results as the culmination of interconnected experiences, beliefs, and actions. Results are the consequence of actions. Individuals take actions based on underlying beliefs. Finally, experiences shape the beliefs that individuals hold.
It is at the fundamental level of experiences where technological tools can help or hurt organizations aiming to produce a culture of accountability. If an organization fails to create experiences with technological tools — such as creating boundaries around when and how these tools should be used — employees can form beliefs that impede their ability to perform well at work. Without positive and structured experiences around technology in the workplace, employees can struggle to manage the boundaries between their personal and professional lives, leading to overwhelm, stilted productivity, and burnout.
Frequently receiving urgent emails late at night, for example, is an experience that may cause employees to hold beliefs such as: “This organization does not respect my time,” and “I cannot stick to an action plan at this company because of unpredictable expectations.” Employees who hold these beliefs disengage, choosing actions that allow them to avoid distracting digital tools or platforms they dread. As a result, team members cannot align around topline objectives and struggle to deliver on them.
Conversely, positive experiences with technology infuses employees with beliefs such as: “I can leverage digital tools to achieve alignment with my team,” “I can get things done faster than before,” and “technology empowers me to set reasonable boundaries between my professional life and my personal time.” When they hold positive beliefs regarding technology, employees engage with their work, using every tool at their disposal to facilitate optimal productivity and take ownership for delivering on desired results.
Successful digital tools improve communication and project management and generate the positive experiences that lead to shared beliefs. These are what drive meaningful action toward organizational goals. Follow these two critical guidelines to select and deploy digital tools that can effectively facilitate a culture of accountability and bolster organizational performance:
1. Focus Teams on Key Results
The Workplace Accountability Index found that, as of May 2019, 63% of employees said there is not always a clear plan/vision to successful execution. Without clarity and team alignment around priorities and what matters most to an organization, teams easily fall into patterns of poor communication, internal siloing, and a lack of direction caused by confused or constantly-shifting expectations.
While a number of popular digital workplace tools — including Slack, Google Hangouts, and Trello — have enabled greater efficiency and improved communication at work, they are not designed to create the kind of deep alignment and cohesion required to propel organizations toward the achievement of their Key Results.
Without a tool for clarifying, reinforcing, promoting alignment around, and measuring progress toward Key Results, digital tools can detract from the culture of accountability necessary for achieving these results. Employees may have a slate full of action items without a sense of which tasks take priority and they may lack critical visibility into progress toward Key Results.
2. Promote Positive, Principled Real-Time Feedback
Technology has enabled virtual connectivity that liberates employees to work remotely or travel between offices while staying in touch with their colleagues in real-time. Work accomplished remotely has a significant impact on the global economy, especially given that 70% of professionals across the globe telecommute at least once a week.
Granting the benefits of workforce decentralization, technological tools can also lead to a lack of team cohesion and a dearth of meaningful interactions between colleagues. As a result, employees are not often privy to others’ perspectives about their performance or able to readily provide candid real-time feedback to colleagues and superiors.
Establishing an egalitarian environment in which every individual feels personally valued and empowered to share their honest thoughts about others’ performance enables greater collective and individual growth. Further, by approaching feedback as honest, candid two-way conversations, performance gaps can be bridged proactively through collaborative troubleshooting and cross-functional accountability. Digital tools employed in the workplace should promote open conversations rather than impede them.