This article was updated on August 29, 2018.

Promoting a culture of accountability and transparency in the workplace is a vital HR responsibility. HR leaders should endeavor to shape the culture around disclosure and ensure that their employees are comfortable coming forward without the fear of reprisal from colleagues and managers alike.

The thing about bad news is that no one wants to hear it and no one wants to deliver it. However, organizations place themselves at great risk when people don't speak up or when policies and procedures aren't followed or otherwise breakdown. The only way to minimize these risks is to create a culture of accountability in addition to having the right policies and procedures in place.

When Fear Stops an Employee From Doing the Right Thing

According to The Washington Post, legal and business risks occur when leaders are out of touch or deceived about what's occurring at their organization. The Washington Post notes how this happened to General Motors Co. when they failed to recall millions of defective cars and the Department of Veterans Affairs when documentation was falsified. "Both cases illustrate the need for leaders to have systems in place to help them understand what is happening within the ranks and to confront troubles before they get wildly out of hand," reports The Washington Post.

In a lot of cases, the problem isn't so much that rules get broken but rather that people don't feel comfortable reporting issues or discrepancies. When rules are in place but get violated, the problem often lies within an organization's culture. Leaders need to create a culture of accountability so that when policies and procedures fail, people feel comfortable reporting it without fear of retaliation.

What Is Psychological Safety and Why Is It Important?

At a minimum, organizations should cultivate a culture where people feel comfortable, confident and proud to help themselves and colleagues stay accountable for all manners of action — whether delivering on promises to customers or reporting a wrongdoing. This requires psychological safety. According to the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, psychological safety refers to people's perceptions of consequences.

In fact, a common trait of Google's most successful teams is psychological safety, according to Business Insider. Therefore, it's a tool that can help HR leaders shape culture around disclosure and ensure employees feel safe to take risks and have a voice. So how does an organization create psychological safety?

Steps to Create Psychological Safety and Culture of Accountability

Steps that HR leaders and organizations can take to create an environment of psychological safety include:

  • Be accessible
  • Encourage vulnerability
  • Initiate discussions
  • Stay open to feedback

If procedures are in place but rules get broken anyway, a culture of accountability might be what's missing. Individuals must hold themselves and their colleagues accountable for doing the right thing. In other words, rules themselves don't necessarily prevent wrongdoing. But in combination with a strong culture of psychological safety, HR leaders can help their employees feel comfortable communicating with higher-ups.

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