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Proactive accountability is a concept focused on encouraging employees to proactively take responsibility for matters related to their job. It’s a way of avoiding incessant blame, finger pointing, denial, and other unproductive, obfuscating habits. But why is proactive accountability so important to the construction industry? And how can you integrate it into your workforce?

The Basics of Proactive Accountability in Construction

Proactive accountability is a concept that can hypothetically apply to any business, but it’s especially important for organizations in the construction industry. The term itself can be broken down into two interrelated sub-terms: to create an environment of proactive accountability, your employees must be both proactive and accountable.

The accountability side of the equation is about admitting problems, accepting responsibility, and acting according to what is needed at that time. All the people responsible for an incident occurring, even if their responsibility was slight or only partial, should come forward and both admit and accept their responsibility for that incident. They should also be ready and willing to take whatever actions are necessary to guide the next steps of the process and make improvements to the environment.

The proactive side of the equation is about taking action preemptively rather than reacting to external circumstances. A supervisor shouldn’t find out about an injury three days after it occurred, and if they start asking questions about the accident, they shouldn’t have to grill their employees to find out what really happened. Instead, employees should freely come forward to the supervisor about the incident, and the supervisor should begin taking steps to address it immediately.

Proactive accountability is disproportionately valuable in construction because of the high stakes. This is an environment where employees are prone to many types of injuries, and compensation can be extremely expensive. Without proactive accountability in construction, more people can get hurt, businesses will lose more money, and the reputation of those businesses will suffer.

Why Is Proactive Accountability So Important?

There are several reasons why proactive accountability is so important:

  • Haste. Proactive accountability accelerates traditional processes. There is no delay between an incident and reporting, and people work together to conduct investigations, file paperwork, and take action to prevent future incidents. Without proactive accountability, everything takes much longer.
  • Root cause analysis. After an incident, it’s important to conduct an investigation so you can perform a thorough root cause analysis and avoid such an incident in the future. This is only possible if everyone involved is willing to come forward and speak honestly. If half your investigation is spent belligerently questioning stubborn employees, you may never feel confident you got to the truth.
  • Collaboration on solutions. Proactively accountable people are much more likely to collaborate to find solutions together. Working as a team with a similar mindset leads to much better results.
  • Minimizing conflict. In the absence of proactive accountability, people like to shift blame, defer responsibility, and sometimes outright lie. These types of behaviors cause more conflicts and should generally be avoided.
  • Setting the example. Practicing proactive accountability is somewhat contagious. The more people in your organization who follow this philosophy, the easier it will be for everyone else to follow it.

How to Foster an Environment of Proactive Accountability

So, how do you build an environment of proactive accountability from scratch?

  • Start with the culture. Everything starts with your organizational culture. Your organization needs to treat safety, accountability, and proactivity as top priorities, originating from your core fundamental values. You also need to focus on hiring and retaining people who demonstrate those values.
  • Lead from the top. Employees in your organization are much more likely to be proactively accountable if they see their supervisors and leaders exhibiting this trait. Culture tends to flow from the top down, so make sure all your highest-ranking organizational members are taking accountability proactively.
  • Avoid shame and excessive reprimanding. Your employees aren’t going to want to come forward about an accident if your response to every accident is shame or excessive reprimanding. Disciplinary action is sometimes warranted, but it’s also important to treat your employees with dignity, respect, and gratitude for coming forward.
  • Reward employees for being proactively accountable. When employees demonstrate proactive accountability, reward them. Even a simple message of appreciation can help reinforce this desired behavior.
  • Identify unwanted behaviors. Identify problematic behaviors like blaming, ignoring, denying, or deferring, and call them out for what they are. Sometimes, employees may not even know they’re doing them.

If you want your construction industry organization to be safer, more collaborative, and more streamlined, proactive accountability is a practical prerequisite. Fortunately, the path to an environment of proactive accountability is simple to understand, even if it’s a bit bumpy in practice. 

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll improve your organizational culture.