In business, we say accountability is essential, no more or less important than skills, knowledge or productivity. But the definition of accountability may not be the same among everyone in your organization. What does it mean to be held "accountable"?
For too many, it means a reactionary, negative or punitive action, when in fact it should be quite the opposite. It should, and does to many others, mean a positive, proactive function of an organization's culture where everyone takes ownership and exhibits pride in their work.
How do we foster a positive sense of accountability? It’s not really a secret sauce – just good management practices.
You need to make accountability a core value of your organization and that means more than just a bullet point on the wall-hanging. Define what it means to your organization. Deciding on and getting agreement on what you will do and what you won't do helps build a common understanding and the expectation that everyone will proceed in that fashion.
As leaders, we have to model what we expect of others, walk the talk. If we don’t, it’s a given that others won’t either. Own the whole, own your part in the whole, and step up when your piece isn’t going as planned. Yes, it takes guts to stick your neck out and admit you’re wrong or that you didn’t do as expected, but your people will respect you more if you do, and will be encouraged to do the same.
Roles and Responsibilities
Uncertainty about roles and authority to make decisions can detail any effort to foster accountability. We’re often hesitant to act or make decisions on our own if we’re not sure the responsibility is ours or what level of autonomy or decision-making authority we have. In addition, it’s pretty hard to hold someone accountable if that person didn’t know she had the responsibility or authority to act.
Everyone needs to understand that even if it’s not in our job description or on our list of personal objectives, doing whatever needs to be done to achieve success with the organization's goals and mission is the responsibility of all employees (within their role). Fostering a sense of responsibility that they feel as part of the organization as a whole. In other words, getting past the "it’s not my job" mentality.
Tools and Resources
There are usually about 4 common reasons that people don't perform as expected:
- They don't know what to do – agree on goals and performance expectations and communicate widely and often.
- They don't know how to do it – Train and coach, coach and train
- They don't want to do it – If you’ve ruled out the above two reasons, dig deeper and deal with the attitude.
- There is some barrier preventing them from doing it – determine if there are insufficient resources, lack of teamwork, poorly constructed policies/procedures, and even physical barriers. Correct as necessary.
Value Authenticity, Integrity and Honesty
These values, if consistently exhibited, will also facilitate those difficult but necessary conversations when things go wrong. We have to be leaders with the willingness and courage to (respectfully) tell the truth as we see it and who allow others to do the same, and to be honest about our actions and our responsibility for those actions. Employees have to feel safe enough to say "I made a mistake" and not shift blame.
What, exactly, do we want employees to be accountable for? Seems like a simple answer – a combination of what to get done (goals and objectives) and how to get it done (values and standards of performance). Decide what will indicate to you that things are getting done the way you want them done – and then communicate that to everyone. Just like Tools and Resources, your people need to know what matters to you, how to go about it, and what you’ll measure to show they’re succeeding.
"Many of the things you can count don't count. Many of the things you cannot count really count." ~ Albert Einstein