I attended an interesting seminar a number of years ago. At the start, the leader asked someone from the audience to volunteer for a little experiment related to accountability. The volunteer looked a little apprehensive as the leader held out a pencil and said: Try to take this pencil. The volunteer took the pencil. The leader gently took the pencil back saying again to the volunteer: You took the pencil. I said TRY to take the pencil.
The Essence of Accountability
It was after some awkward minutes that “a light” went off for the hundreds in attendance. The leader had made an important the point: There is no trying. One either does something or DOESN’T.
This is my all time favorite workplace accountability story. If you are reading this post and think of yourself as accountable you likely are shaking your head yes. Furthermore, you’re thinking this:
Of course I practice personal accountability and do what I say. And, if by some very unusual chance I cannot meet a commitment I let others know. I also hold myself 100% accountable for the outcome and any negative consequences connected with it. Essentially I set clear expectations do what I say I will do. I do it to the best of my ability despite any obstacles. Whatever happens, I own the results.
- Own their commitments.
- Follow through on their commitments.
- Don’t make excuses when things go bad.
- Own the results and learn from every experience – successful or not.
This is how people who are accountable think – and act!
The Current State of Accountability
We believe both personal and professional accountability have taken a downward turn. It’s easy to suggest that each of us become more accountable and work to help OTHERS be more accountable too. But our popular culture is making this outcome progressively less likely because it’s becoming easier for people to let themselves off the hook.
Whether it’s lack of punctuality, inability to overcome roadblocks, inadequate goal setting, or unclear expectations, a workplace culture of accountability means that everyone owns the results – good or bad. And, as more and more interactions become less and less personal, it’s become easier to offer excuses and defer commitments. With a simple text, email, or voice message we have made it much too easy to explain away, defer, or remove ourselves from commitments. All of these are simple acts, but they have major repercussions for how people begin to feel entitled to let themselves off the hook — personally and at work. When employee accountability is not top of mind and expected a disaster is in the making.
Organizations need to fight hard to make Accountability Cultures the norm. This needs to be done even as the more general culture continues to allow more and more people to get “free passes” on breaking commitments. When people become accustomed to getting a free pass there are dangerous consequences for the workplace.
Here’s Today’s Reality
Instant/ubiquitous communication makes it easier to get out of doing things, to break or suspend commitments, and become ever more detached. Accountability was always about personal commitment but culture, tools, and style make it just a little too convenient to let oneself off the hook.
We believe accountability needs a big comeback. That comeback starts with sharpening one’s own commitment to personal accountability. Accountability starts with looking in the mirror. It starts with you! Only once you’re “on-board” should you take the next step and begin to focus on others.
Accountability Starts with YOU
Having one’s own personal sense of accountability — and expecting others to be accountable too — is the single most important factor when it comes to achieving better outcomes and higher levels of performance in any organization. Creating a culture of accountability must be a critical goal for any person, team member, or organization that wants results. When people own tasks they take absolute responsibility for completing them. In addition, they are accountable for the results — good, or bad. There is no trying. There is only doing and being responsible for the outcome.
Let’s get back to the mirror. The starting place for all accountability is personal – it’s about you. Start with an audit. Determine how well or not you hold yourself accountable for commitments you have made. Look first at activities you consider to be important. From these, consider those which never seem to get done.
People often say family, good health, or financial security are top priorities. But many of these same people, if honest, would have to admit to failing at one or the other — or all. Promises are made but often not kept. They are pushed aside with weak excuses. People always seem to find ways to let themselves off the hook for not showing up, standing up, or accomplishing personal objectives.
Consider These Questions:
- Do you blame others, or use tired excuses like “not enough time” to let yourself off the hook on personal goals from health to relationships to self-improvement?
- Have you dropped the ball on your “commitment” to read more, think more, and schedule less so you have time to accomplish what’s most important?
- In your personal life do you let others off the hook when they offer elaborate stories about why they did not live up to their commitments?
- Do you have high standards personally or do you continually offer excuses for not finishing home projects, cooking and eating more meals at home, or saving more money each month?
- Do you return calls, schedule time for friendships, and make time for reflection and building character or do you again let yourself off the hook easily and often?
- When others disappoint you with last minute cancellations or unexpected changes in plans do you just shake your head or do you take time to share with them your concerns about their lack of accountability?
Now for the Workplace
We believe that how one does ANYTHING is how they do EVERYTHING. The prior questions, if honestly considered, will help you get a handle on how you hold yourself and others accountable. This audit will likely provide new and important insights on how you handle accountability at work.
At work, start supporting a culture of accountability by reviewing how well you are personally holding yourself accountable for stated workplace goals, actions, and outcomes. And fully review how often you are absolutely clear with others about what you expect from them.
To Start Your Audit Answer These Questions
- What were the top 3 accountabilities you accepted this year?
- Do you own your results or the lack of results?
- Have you set your employee accountability expectations high enough?
- Would your peers and leader be able to note how well you have demonstrated personal accountability regarding your goals and projects?
- Does everyone who works with you have a clear and concise understanding of what you expect of them?
- Is goal-setting even working?
- Are you stuck feeling others are dropping the ball and not being accountable rather than holding yourself to the same high level?
Bottom Line . . .
Accountability is a pressing necessity. The workplace should push to make everyone more accountable. But that isn’t going to happen without leaders at every level stepping in front of the mirror and taking personal accountability to a higher level.
While it’s hard to work against the popular culture it is certainly worth pursuing and making a priority in every organization. To help create an accountability culture:
- Own things!
- Take responsibility for results!
- Continue the process!
Many say they are too hard on themselves. When it comes to accountability we’re not so sure. Likely they’re not being hard enough!