Stephen Coveys says that people play differently when they are keeping score. I am sure you know that is true, not just in athletics, but in companies, businesses, organizations, and churches. The bottom line is accountability. Accountability is basically building trust. It is making sure that a person is doing what they said they would do, as they said they would do it, when they said they would do it.Accountability is a must for success and progress, but for many it has become a negative word. Too many people feel like accountability is a slap on the hand, a “jerk on my leash,” when I forgot to do something or didn’t do it well. A few major reasons people resist accountability are:
Pride—We just assert, “I’m a good worker,” and we don’t want someone else evaluating our work. We fear they won’t understand our circumstances. Pride interferes with our rational judgment and the way we perceive the intentions of others. We can think they are “out to get us” when actually they are working for the success of the overall team, and raise the bar for everyone. Leaders resist holding others accountable because they fear insulting them.
Laziness—Getting by can be very attractive. Accountability cuts that off at the legs. That makes people resist it, because they fear they won’t get any “slack.” Leaders resist working the accountability process because it actually is hard work to know peoples’ commitments, and loop back to see if they are fulfilling them. But when you follow up with people on their commitments, you are signaling to them that their work is important.
Forgetting why we do it—Accountability helps us recognize successes and correct failures. When we understand we are accountable within the team to each other because we are accountable to our clients, customers, and stakeholders as an organization, it makes more sense.
Too much negativity—We can easily associate accountability with simply pointing out what’s wrong and who is to blame. Actually, proper accountability looks at least as much for who and what is going right, and how we can improve.
Too many people weighing in—No one can be accountable to everyone. For proper motivation and forward movement, individuals need to only be held accountable to people who are not coming from a self-interest base, or to people with limited knowledge. People need to be accountable to the best-informed person for the given situation, not the person who shouts the loudest.
Non-purposeful responses—Accountability can never be a knee-jerk reaction. It needs to be with knowledge, and proper actions for celebration or correction to follow.
But when accountability is handled well, most everyone rises to the challenge and does better. Think about your own history. What have you done because other people were watching? Group dynamics do fascinating things. We are answering to other people, we can do things we can’t or won’t do left on our own.THE OZ PRINCIPLE is a book by Connors, Smith, and Hickman that urges personal accountability. It urges individuals to continuing ask themselves the accountability question: “What can I consistently do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the desired results?” The authors share these signposts of living in an accountable manner. It takes time, effort, commitment, and sometimes even emotional trauma to get onto the steps to accountability and stay there, but, after experiencing life above the line in the world accountability can provide, no individual or organization wants to return to the blame game.
You invite candid feedback from everyone about your own performance.
You never want anyone, including yourself, to hide the truth from you.
You readily acknowledge reality, including all its problems and challenges.
You don’t waste time or energy on things you cannot control or influence.
You always commit yourself 100 percent to what you are doing, and if your commitment begins to wane, you strive to rekindle it.
You own your circumstances and your results, even when they seem less than desirable.
You recognize when you are dropping below the line and act quickly to avoid the traps of the victim cycle.
You delight in the daily opportunity to make things happen.
You constantly ask yourself the question, “What else can I do to rise above my circumstances and get the results I want?”
To be proactive in accountability, Mike Scott, Totally Accountable leader, says it is important to understand the difference between a task, an appointment, and a project. A task may not have a date; an appointment always has a date and a time; and a project is a series of tasks and appointments. Start each day or project with action items. Always start your tasks with a verb, like “Call Susan about delivery.” You also need to ascertain if it is a must, need, or want, so you can take appropriate action.As you take these steps to become more accountable yourself, you can lead others effectively. To create a totally accountable culture, you must make sure everyone is committed to the basic accountability principle: doing what you said you would do, as you said you would do it, when you said you would do it. Scott offers these further directives:The key habits for creating the accountable outcome you desire are:
Always agree on the completion date and time for all delegated work.
Paraphrase or repeat all verbal requests
Keep track of all delegated work.
Insist on results with no surprises.
Be the personal model of accountability in all areas of your life.
As the leader, never ask why something is not done. Instead, ask in this order:
What’s your next step to get that done?
When are you doing to do that?
Can I count on you for that?
When someone says “No,” say, “You can always tell me no, but this has to happen. You have to give me a solution about how it will happen anyway.”When someone says, “I’ll try,” say, “I know you are going to try, but what I need to know is can I count on you for the results?”When someone says, “I said I would try,” respond, “Let’s deal with the obstacle right now.”Being accountable requires adopting a new way of thinking. You must eliminate the questions that begin with “Why” or “Who.” When you ask why, you allow victim thinking. When you ask who, you blame. Both damage morale and productivity. Instead, develop in yourself and encourage in others these four factors:
Commitment—accountable people are willing to do whatever it takes to get the results required, readily buying in, even if it isn’t my direct responsibility.
Resiliency—accountable people have inner tenacity and make a deliberate effort to bounce back quickly from setbacks. They push on no matter what.
Ownership—full ownership means I embrace what I contribute at work and am able to accept feedback and grow from it.
Continuous Learning—accountable people don’t view mistakes as failures, but they own up to them as teachable moments that will lead to a better future.
Once we and our teams learn to embrace personal accountability. Increased engagement and happiness, plus productivity, is sure to follow.