Employees in the workplace function best when given autonomy. Accountable employees are key to any thriving business. However, accountability in business has to go both ways–employees need to be accountable to the company and the company needs to be accountable to the employees. Many of you have likely heard Netflix’s travel-expense policy: “Act in Netflix’s best interest.” For many employers, having a policy as simple as this seems impossible. In a sense, they are right–not everyone can make this policy work. It works for Netflix because they have created a culture of mutual accountability.
In his book Scaling Up Excellence, Robert Sutton calls this the “I own the place and the place owns me” mentality. He hits the nail on the head here in briefly stating that giving people responsibility tends to give them a stronger sense of obligation. This is, of course, just a clever way of phrasing things–any business owner knows that having the business own you is not a sign of a healthy company. However, he perfectly sums up the concept of mutual accountability. Employees with a strong sense of obligation usually have a sense of the company’s obligation to them.
Only in the context of a work environment where the business is committed to and protective of its employees can employees truly act in the business’ best interest. In other words, employee accountability is only possible when an organization and its systems can be called to account.