Employee Accountability is More Important than Employee Engagement, says Cy Wakeman

Employee Accountability is More Important than Employee Engagement, says Cy WakemanCy Wakeman started her work life as a counselor, helping people who wanted to achieve better results and experience more happiness in their lives. She told her clients to stop blaming their circumstances and take responsibility for their results. When she moved into leadership positions, she started applying that mindset to her employees, too, and found they were able to deliver results even in difficult circumstances.

“They learned that their circumstances were not the reasons they couldn’t succeed but the reality in which they must succeed,” she says.

I caught up with her recently to learn more about her reality-based approach to doing business and building employee accountability, keeping employees motivated and employee engagement. Here’s what she had to say.

What do employers need to know about engagement?

Employers need to know that it is time to rethink employee engagement. As business leaders, why do we spend so much time trying to solve our employees’ problems? If we’re listening to conventional management wisdom, we probably think (or hope) that a stress-free, obstacle-free working environment will magically turn everyone into happy, productive employees.

That’s why we distribute employee satisfaction surveys – to find out how we can create the perfect workplace. You know the place: where processes run smoothly, no one ever gets frustrated and we all work with our BFFs.

So we hand out the surveys, compile the responses, make a list, implement the suggestions and are rewarded with new levels of productivity. Right?

Wrong. Here’s the problem: Traditional employee satisfaction surveys make three assumptions that just don’t hold water:

  • Every employee response is important.
  • Every employee opinion is credible.
  • Engagement alone drives results.

These assumptions are artifacts of the old employee engagement approach – the one that strives to create a magical office where there are no problems and everyone is happy.

Instead, approach employee engagement differently:

  • Don’t treat every opinion the same. Listen to what your top performers tell you. They’ve proved their value and earned their credibility, so go ahead: Play favorites.
  • Insist on personal accountability. Challenge employees to take on more responsibility, and hold them accountable for the results. By replacing a sense of entitlement with a sense of empowerment, you make them bulletproof – capable of handling anything that comes along.
  • Employ quid pro quo. You, as a manager, need to get in the habit of making requests. In response to the next employee who makes a request such as wanting flex time, turn the tables and ask, “What are you willing to do to get that?”
  • Foster a “yes” culture. Buy-in is not optional. Once a decision has been made, employees should use their expertise to manage the risks and make it work.
  • Stop trying to create a perfect workplace. There will always be change, conflict, challenges, disagreements, discomfort and frustration in the workplace. And that’s good news! Instead of removing all these healthy hurdles for your employees, empower them to make the leap. It’s better for them and for the company.

What happens if employees are engaged but don’t have personal accountability?

Engagement without accountability creates entitlement. In businesses, on the advice of HR, we have over-rotated and over-focused on engagement. Our work has been based on the false assumption that engagement is created by perfecting one’s circumstances, when in fact engagement is a choice and is highly correlated to the amount of accountability one takes for their own circumstances.

A second misconception is that engagement creates results.  If that were the case, we would actually see a correlation between engagement levels and business outcomes. Seventy-eight percent of the businesses we observed over 10 years of engagement data simply did not prove to have a correlation – engaged people did not necessarily produce results, the correlation was weak.  The sweet spot is when we can create circumstances for highly accountable people.

Download our guide to employee engagement

Talmetrix is an employee feedback and insights solution that helps organizations better attract and retain talent to achieve business goals. Our solution makes it easy for organizations to capture employee feedback (feelings) and organizational data (facts) to discover actionable insights. With a unique combination of software, content, data, and advisory support we can help you measure and improve your employee experience. Contact us today to learn how your company can start achieving better business results.

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