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The Accountability Conundrum

We hear it all the time … that dreaded phrase … the one that conjures up fear, trepidation, annoyance, irritation …

We need to hold people accountable!

Naturally, your reaction is based on whether you’re giving or receiving this loathsome missive, “accountability.” It’s so packed with emotional land mines that just talking about it is like skating across spring ice.

  • If you’re being HELD accountable, it’s natural to feel trepidation thanks to the belief that “accountable” is just corporate-speak for “blamed.”
  • If you’re HOLDING someone else accountable, you’re probably annoyed and irritated that you aren’t sure how to negotiate the middle ground between saying nothing at all and firing someone.

"Accountability" can be dangerous

Yet it’s even worse to just ignore the issue. After all, an organization that doesn’t embrace accountability is an organization headed for extinction.

Let’s change the word to “responsibility.”

Individuals, managers and leaders are all responsible for results. This has never been more true than it is today thanks to three intersecting forces:

  1. The complexity of business is increasing. And if a business wants to grow, even more complexity comes with growth.
  2. We’re experiencing an explosion of change throughout the marketplace.
  3. The greatest market share changes occur during the upswing of a recession, not during the recession.  That combination makes it imperative that business leaders focus first and foremost on executing for results.

As with most things in an organization, it starts with leadership.

To create on organization that responsible people want to work in, your leadership team must relentlessly demonstrate personal responsibility every day.

Individuals, managers and leaders are all responsible for results.  This has never been more true than it is today.  We arrive at that conclusion based on three intersecting forces:

  1. The complexity of business overall is increasing.  And If a business wants to grow, it’s a given that even more complexity comes with growth
  2. We are experiencing an explosion of change throughout the marketplace
  3. The greatest market share changes occur during the upswing of a recession, not during the recession

That combination makes it imperative that business leaders focus first and foremost on executing for results.  We no longer have the luxury of either time or extra dollars to hope that the organization will start improving.

As with most things in business, it starts with leadership. Leadership must relentlessly demonstrate personal responsibility every day, and leadership must create on organization that responsible people want to work in so that you attract the best and the brightest.

Almost every leader would say that he/she is responsible. However, there are levels of responsibility.  It’s our job to model responsible behavior for everyone else in the organization.  Then, our employees will know what responsible behavior looks like and it will start to become part of the culture.  People want to do a good job and meet your expectations. Show them, through your own actions, what you expect and how their behavior impacts results.  That way, you are taking personal responsibility for teaching and providing employees with a high bar that they’ll be challenged to reach.

Let’s have some fun.

Below are just a few examples of behaviors and habits that instill responsibility into your culture. How would you rate YOURSELF in these areas?  Use a 1-7 scale with 1 being “always true” and 7 being “never true.”

  1. When I talk with employees my conversations are more about producing results than describing activities.
  2. I take the time to nurture responsibility in others instead of carrying the load on my own shoulders.
  3. I set my own personal goals and adhere to them.
  4. I regularly challenge commonly held beliefs and assumptions (even my own) in order to ensure that the company strategy and goals are realistic.
  5. I embody the company values (if our value is to “respect each other,” you would never hear me berate an employee or fail to acknowledge an accomplishment).
  6. I make sure the organization is problem solving effectively by  eradicating root causes.
  7. I do not make excuses. Period.
  8. I don’t simply communicate to the organization. I ensure that every person understands.
  9. I am responsible for knowing the customer and for providing the experience that the customer wants and needs…not simply providing the product or service.
  10. Problems are resolved, not just discussed.
  11. I own the results.
  12. I have the courage to proactively seek what’s real.

How did you do?

  • Whenever you gave yourself a 5 or higher, start finding a way to improve that particular skill or habit. There probably aren’t simple fixes, but don’t let that stop you. Just start identifying specific steps that you can take to improve over time.
  • When you scored a 1 or 2, congratulations — you’re doing a good job of modeling the behavior. Your next step is to make sure you TEACH that skill so that your company can learn and follow your lead.

In The Sherpa Journal, we’ll continue to explore this accountability/responsibility issue in order to further dissect the “We need to hold people accountable” phrase.  It all starts at the top. Being honest with yourself and acknowledging where you’re personally strong and where you need improvement is the first step.

If you’d like some assistance in identifying small steps that would lead to a particular skill improvement, contact us. We’d be happy to provide you with ideas and suggestions based on what has worked for others.

Start today in developing a responsible organization that focuses on results!

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