At Cunningham and Associates, we know the importance of building an accountable management team. We are lucky enough to have worked with many companies, providing solutions to people management. However, recent trends show that managing people is one of the most significant issues business owners continue to struggle with. 

In our experience, the number one barrier business owners must confront is a consistent lack of accountability across their organization. For some organizations, specific hardships are found amongst their key supervisory management team. I am sure that for many of you, this comes as no surprise.

Across all industries, owners find themselves struggling to share in the ‘care’ and ‘commitment’ that it takes to grow a successful business. As a result, owners bear entirely the burden of carrying their business forward. But there is often a conflict between their employee’s interests and what is best for the company. 

Due to issues surrounding people management, we at C&A felt it was our responsibility to define accountability. Even if you are still a skeptical business owner, we are convinced you will see there is a clear path to building an accountable management team. So, let’s get started.

What is the Meaning of Accountability?

Accountability means having managers in place who genuinely care about the organization’s performance. Without this, it is nearly impossible to create accountability. We have come to this conclusion about management accountability because of what we hear from business owners. 

For example, business owners may say that they lack management accountability. My first question is, “What do you mean?” Many owners respond with frustration about a lack of ‘caring.’ This is the first component of how we at C&A define management accountability—managers who care about the organization.

Next is the concept of ‘commitment.’ Having a workforce that cares about the company is excellent. But if they are not committed to the organization’s ultimate goals, then accountability is non-existent. This component of accountability ties into an employee’s belief that they are responsible for achieving realistic results. If they aren’t committed to the goal, their care for the company won’t get them very far. 

The last component of accountability is tied to the concept of ‘responsibility.’ Accountable managers need to be responsible for the results and organizational goals laid out by ownership. They must feel personal ownership for poor and strong results alike.

Now that we know how accountability is defined, we can begin to lay down the tracks that will drive managers to be accountable. 

As we see it, there are five critical components to creating accountability within your organization. Establishing these five components accomplishes two things for your organization. First, you establish a structure that allows you to hold your employees accountable on a continued basis. Next, you will effectively create self-accountability for critical resources within your organization.

Related reading: Top 10 steps to maximizing your return on employee training.

Goal Clarity and Management Accountability

The first and most crucial component of management accountability is goal clarity. Simply put — how can we hold our managers accountable if they do not know what they are being held responsible for? 

When business owners confront us regarding a lack of accountability, the next series of questions always surrounds goal clarity: 

  • Do your employees know the results they are being held accountable for? 
  • Do they fully understand the organization’s ultimate goal? 
  • Most importantly, do they understand how they personally contribute to your company’s ability to meet those goals? 

Creating goal clarity is essential for establishing management accountability. Thankfully, it is relatively simple to achieve. 

How can you establish goal clarity? First, you need to set goals that are based on results and process. It is also crucial to identify the actions the team must take to be successful. At the same time, you must define what the result will be if you take those actions. 

Many business owners might communicate financial performance goals to their team but then get frustrated when those goals are not being met. To avoid this, you cannot rely solely on financial results. Rather lay out the actions, processes, and initiatives each manager needs to take to meet those results. In doing so, you will be in a better position to hold your people accountable. They will also have a clear vision of what they need to do to be successful.

The Importance of Autonomy in Management Accountability

Developing an autonomous workforce is critical in boosting accountability. Autonomy refers to an employee’s perception that their work is self-directed. In other words, each employee understands that they are responsible for their actions and how they set priorities every day. 

The reason autonomy is so critical to maintaining an accountable workforce is that autonomy leads to ownership. When your employees feel empowered to provide input and make decisions within your company, they take ownership of those decisions and the results that follow. The days of a command-and-control management culture are long gone, and if you didn’t know that, it is time to catch up on your reading! 

Employees need to feel that management values their input. They are then motivated to follow through on their decisions, seeing how they directly impact the organization’s ultimate goals. 

Without autonomy, an employee lacks ownership. The result is that they will often dismiss the goals and initiatives that come down the hierarchical ladder. This lack of ownership means they fail to embrace management initiatives and drive them forward. 

Suppose an employee feels that potential failure will result from decisions made by someone else in the organization. In that case, they are less likely to take the risk of failure seriously. As a result, a culture develops where employees exhibit a lack of caring, commitment, and responsibility to the goals set out by ownership.

Consistency Boosts Management Accountability

Accountability is not accomplished at an offsite you hold once a year. Of course, isolated efforts to develop clarity and autonomy are vital to boost management accountability. However, maintaining accountability in an organization is a year-long job. As a business owner, it is good to have this task as a primary focus. 

The structure is vital for establishing a consistent system for holding employees accountable. This structure can come in the form of regular reporting, formal review meetings, or informal conversations with key players. Whatever the case, it is essential that managers are constantly reminded that they are responsible for and accountable for the goals you have defined. 

Maintaining consistency can be challenging. As a business owner, you are constantly putting out fires, capturing opportunities, and addressing your organization’s ever-shifting priorities. However, this does not get you off the hook for maintaining consistency. It is vitally important to stick to the procedures you and your team create for reviewing and discussing performance on a regular basis. Hold true to your commitments. Missing review meetings regularly will only diminish the value they hold in the eye of the manager and will eventually lead to a significant lack of accountability. 


Consistency in maintaining accountability means that a business owner must be accountable to their people as well. How can we hold our people responsible if we ourselves are not accountable? The best executives see themselves as the foundational support system within their organization. 

As an executive, your key responsibilities are to create a clear vision—or goal clarity—and provide the resources necessary to achieve this vision. Resources refer to several things such as human resources, machinery, training, time, money, and information. Falling short of your obligation to your organization will only create animosity and dejection amongst your workforce. 

Here marks the aspect of ‘reciprocity’ that drives accountability throughout organizations. As a business owner, you must realize that you are asking a lot of your people. The best business owners lead by example. So, if you demand that employees dedicate themselves to the goals of your business, they can expect the same from you. You can take the lead in showing accountability when supporting their success in your organization. 

For example, suppose managers have been stressing that front-line employees need vital training for their job. But if you have not provided training resources, you will undermine their self-accountability. Their motivation to work toward company goals will gradually disappear. 

So, support your people, listen to their input, and reciprocate in-kind by providing the resources they need to be successful.


Rewards are closely tied to the concept of reciprocity. While you ask your employees to work harder, longer, and more productively, you can bet that they are asking themselves the question, “what is in it for me?” And they are justified in asking this question. 

A key to establishing management accountability is to develop a reward system tied to the organization’s goals. Employees who see that their personal goals are aligned with the organization’s goals are more likely to push forward on achieving those goals. 

Similarly, employees should understand that there are consequences to not achieving goals on a consecutive basis. While rewards can include monetary incentives and bonuses, they are not limited to financial upsides. You can accomplish the same if not more by rewarding people with additional responsibilities, learning and development, and increased insight into the operations of the business. 

It does not matter if rewards are monetary or development-focused, be sure to define them upfront. Additionally, let your managers know what is ultimately in it for them. In return, they will personalize the organization’s goals and see their own motivations and your business goals as one-in-the-same.  

Whether accountability is a new or historical issue within your organization, you should constantly evaluate these five factors. Start by asking key personnel how they feel about each of the five components. You might be interested in what you find out. 

Organizational Training: Key to Developing Management Accountability

Cunningham and Associates organize highly customized training programs to help your organization reach its goals. We can help you develop management teams who feel accountable and are committed to your organization’s goals. For more information, contact Cunningham and Associates today at (508) 797-5003.

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