Accountability…it’s a word that I hear from every leader in every organization. The question on their lips is how do I get people to be accountable? And then it follows with statements such as “what’s wrong with these people”, “isn’t anyone accountable”, “they simply don’t care” or “I keep asking and they keep ignoring” or some other version of ‘it’s them not me’.
I believe that accountability starts with the leader.
If the leader doesn’t model accountability then why would anyone in the organization feel the need to be accountable themselves? When the leader doesn’t communicate an explanation of why whatever they are asking for is important to the organization, the employee doesn’t have a clear sense of how their work matters, or how they are valued. Worse yet when the leader simply grumbles, complains or shouts out their frustration and doesn’t have a conversation it leaves people feeling unappreciated and uncertain as to the problem and what to do differently.
Accountability starts at the top, period. Let’s explore a bit of the concept of accountability and what gets in the way of having an organization where people are accountable.
You must define accountability. This seems ridiculous I know. Accountability is people doing what they say they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it. If that is how you are defining it great. On the other hand, maybe you are including other criteria such as engagement, honesty, communication or other terms. Make sure you define accountability for yourself and the organization and then communicate this repeatedly to others.
Assuming commitment from others. Just because you tell someone to do something does not mean they understand what you want, or even agreed to handle. As leaders we assume if we make a statement or a request it will be done. Not true!
Laziness. It isn’t easy to have conversations with others when they misstep, don’t follow through or provide you with incomplete or inaccurate results. Leaders often resort to criticism and negative comments rather than productive and informative conversations. AND the worse case is when a leader tells someone “you didn’t do it right and figure it out for yourself what you should do differently”. Come on, how will they be able to figure that out.
Asking others to do as you say but not as you do. When a leader makes promises to other and doesn’t follow through the message is either ‘I didn’t really mean it’ or ‘the rules are different for me’ or some other message that doesn’t communicate anything positive.
Lack of clarity. I can’t tell you how often team members will tell me they aren’t clear about what is being asked of them. hey will ask questions and get cryptic responses, no response of not enough additional information to ensure they know what is expected. I believe that too many leaders aren’t clear themselves and have a bring me a rock syndrome (I’ll know when I see it) and don’t realize it, or they are in such a hurry they provide limited amounts of information and don’t slow down enough to let others ask questions.
No communication feedback loop. Part of accountability includes a communication loop. The communication loop tells others if something has changed and how it impacts them. It also includes telling others when they are brilliant and handled a task or project well, not simply when you are upset with the results.
Too much email and texting. We live in a fast-paced business world and communication is often handled electronically rather than over the phone or face-to-face. While electronic communication has value it does not replace connecting with others at a human level. Part of the challenge with emails and texts is they are meant to be short, which limits how effectively a message is communicated. Another challenge is it limits the back and forth question/answer opportunity that happens when you are speaking with a person.
Thinking it’s them not you. I promise you most people who work for a company want to do a good job. They want to meet the needs of the organization and perform well. When you assume it’s their fault and you had no part or a very limited part in the outcome they will feel dismissed, not valued and take a ‘why bother’ attitude.
Making accountability punitive. I am the first to admit that when someone continues to display behavior that is not acceptable, doesn’t perform well and repeated conversations don’t change anything that some action has to happen. However, there are many times they simply didn’t understand, you weren’t clear, there was limited communication and a whole host of other factors that may have interfered. Before moving to punitive actions step back and ask yourself where you could be part of the problem (and thus the solution), and what might you do differently to determine if it’s attitudinal versus something else.
Leadership isn’t a title or a box on an org chart. Great leaders understand their role is to develop, grow, mentor and coach the people that work for them to greatness. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if that is what you are doing, if you truly care about others and their growth and development and if you are modeling for them the behavior and actions you want from them.