Trust vs Accountability: What’s the Difference?

Many businesses who have recently transitioned to remote work are worried about their employees suddenly working from home. They’re concerned that work isn’t getting done, but don’t have any mechanism for creating accountability.

May 2020 - 4 minutes read

This can lead to a lack of trust, and a disintegration of company morale as managers are forced to spend their time micromanaging both projects and staff.

If you didn’t have a system for remote work in place before this pandemic, you’re probably facing this struggle right now. It can be really difficult to transition into remote work without much preparation, but unfortunately that’s where a lot of companies are at right now.

Instead of getting frustrated with your current situation, the best thing to do now is learn as much as possible about both trust and accountability, and institute new policies starting as soon as possible. They don’t need to change once you’re back in the office, either. These robust accountability policies will only help your staff, regardless of whether they’re working in the office or remotely.

Today, let’s talk about how trust and accountability interact in the development world, and how you can create robust policies that encourage more trusting, effective partnerships within your teams.

What is Trust?

The word ‘trust’ has a lot of different meanings, but the most relevant to our discussion today are “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something” and “dependence on something future or contingent.”

If you’re working on a team, trust is absolutely paramount. You need to know that the people you’re working alongside will produce their deliverables on time, and will carry out their responsibilities to the best of their knowledge and ability.

If someone was a fantastic worker until they suddenly start breaking deadlines or turning in low-quality, error-ridden work, it’s a huge breach of trust that sends up a massive red flag.

What is Accountability?

According to the same dictionary we used above, ‘accountability’ is defined as “the quality or state of being accountable. Especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”

Accountability is a popular phrase around many offices- managers use it to convey their expectations about their staff’s job performance and results. However, it isn’t enough to just talk about accountability without putting a practical system in place.

The Benefits of a Practical System of Accountability

Trust cannot thrive without accountability. Without it, there’s no way to set concrete expectations, track progress, or measure results. This leaves workplaces vulnerable to endless miscommunications, impossibly high standards, and the frustration of dealing with rolling deadlines and confusing directives. We all work better when we’re given clear instructions, deadlines, and feedback.

The truth is, trust can improve both performance and teamwork. Researchers have actually been able to measure the impact trust has on different workplaces, and the results are remarkable.

People in high-trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, and a whopping 106% more energy at work when compared to their peers working for low-trust companies.

Implementing Systems of Accountability

One of the signs of a great manager is if they’re able to point to specific ways that they hold staff accountable. Here are some of our top tips for implementing systems of accountability- even when staff are working remotely.

Set Clear Expectations About Communication

Every workplace communicates differently. Some workplaces like to touch base with an all-hands meeting at least once a day, while others are content to only bring staff together when it’s absolutely necessary.

Regardless of where your workplace falls on that spectrum, make sure expectations are communicated clearly from day one. When you’re forced into remote work, this becomes even more important.

There should be no confusion about whether staff are obligated to attend the daily check-in, or whether they should be tagging their manager in every assignment logged into the work operating system.

Allow People to Work on Their Own Terms- But Make Sure to Check In

Everyone has their own way of working. Some people love to have their colleagues close by when so they can toss off quick questions, while others need absolute silence and solitude in order to get anything accomplished. When your company is remote, these habits become even more apparent.

In order to get the best work out of every employee, it’s a good idea to give them some leeway regarding how and when they get their work done. However, don’t forget to check in. Offering them trust in terms of how they get their work doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable for not adhering to deadlines or other responsibilities.

Put Company Policy Documents in a Central Repository

One of the most important concepts related to both trust and accountability is transparency. To encourage full transparency within your company, keep documentation and company policies in an easily accessible online repository.

This helps answer questions about the company’s overall goals and strategies, and ensures people feel ownership over the company’s future. These are the types of measures that keep employees engaged long-term.

Have a Clear Disciplinary Procedure

If a member of your staff is being evasive and uncommunicative, regularly turn in poor work, or fail their team in other ways, they should face disciplinary action.

From their first day of work, staff should understand the consequences for breaking trust. It shouldn’t be based on the mood of their superior, or whether they’re friendly outside of work. A workplace can only cultivate trust when their disciplinary procedure is unbiased, fair, and clear from the very beginning.

Great Development Companies Hold Themselves Accountable

The best companies use systems of accountability as a way to ensure equality and trust, no matter where their staff happen to be working. The tips we’ve brought you today can be applied to any company, regardless of whether they have 2 or 2,000 staffers.

Want to learn more about how development companies and their staff can hold themselves accountable even when working remotely? The mid-April episode of our podcast talked all about trust, accountability, leadership, and how to build these into your workplace during COVID-19. It expands on a lot of these ideas and offers practical advice on how development companies can build trust, even when staff are working remotely.

May 2020