Real Accountability

June 9, 2011

Accountability is the binding strength of interdependence. The two primary principles of real accountability are that it always starts with you and that it always seeks productive solutions rather than blame when challenges occur at work.

We are accountable for keeping our promise to assume full responsibility for performing our jobs with distinction, trying to continuously improve our jobs as we master them, and caring about what we do. We are accountable for performing as autonomously as possible, but knowing when and how to ask for help when we need it.

We are accountable for knowing what’s expected of us and understanding how we need to behave in order to meet and exceed those expectations. We are also accountable for understanding that our expectations of others, even our leaders, are legitimate, and we must have the courage to share our expectations with others. We can’t expect people to help us excel until we ensure they know what we need.

We are accountable for helping others keep their promises by being enabling and encouraging, rather than disabling and discouraging. As we master our jobs, we try our best to help those around us master and improve their jobs. As purposeful performers, we are driven to find ways we can inspire others to enact their best selves at work.

We are accountable for not looking the other way when things go wrong or when people behave in unexpected or inappropriate ways. We are accountable for seeking solutions rather than laying blame; however, we understand that sometimes solutions require tough choices.

A team or organization that is void of real accountability is one that is incapable of delivering remarkable performance. Interdependence is the walk of excellence, a walk that requires intention, foresight, effort, introspection, discipline, patience, persistence, openness, integrity, respect, trust, compassion, courage, commitment, growth, gratitude, and grace.

That’s what we are accountable for.

Did I miss anything? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    Once again you have corralled some great concepts into a very helpful post. I love your detailed listing of what accountability really means.

    The good news is, accountability that is practiced anywhere within an organization can influence and eventually modify the culture of the entire organization. We may not be able to instantly demand a universal culture of accountability at our job, but we can set the stage for our bosses to expect accountability from us, and for mutual accountability to blossom within our own sphere of influence.

    One of my best strategies for accomplishing this is something I routinely do at the beginning of a new project. I make a table that I call my Objectives & Outcomes statement. In one column (Objectives), I list each of the project’s goals. These tend to sound rather abstract, so in the next column over (Outcomes), I write a brief, simple, realistic description of what each goal will look like when it’s achieved.

    I circulate this statement to stakeholders (for approval & sign-off) and task force members (for orientation and role assignment). Here’s what this gets me: now everyone involved in the project is accountable to the same vision. Or as I like to say, The Mission is the Boss.

    One of my other (many!) mottoes is “Aim, Don’t Blame.” By creating a Project Objectives & Outcomes statement, I find that I can Aim everyone effortlessly and continuously. (If new objectives pop up later on, I simply point out that they weren’t in the original statement — so obviously we will need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to include them, and that will probably not only set back our current progress but also require more time, money, or other resources. That kind of response tends to reinforce accountability and squelch the all-too-common pile-on of other new facets to a project.)

    If execution problems come up, I don’t have to get flustered or point the finger at anyone (Blame). I can just go back to the Project Objectives and Outcomes statement and say, “Hey, are we still on track to accomplish all of these? If not, what needs to change?” And I re-Aim those involved. When something goes wrong, I don’t ask “Who dropped the ball?”, I ask “How can we best pick up this ball that’s on the ground now?” I approach task force members to provide solutions for project aspects for which they originally accepted accountability and/or to revise timelines and expectations. That is a lot different than a throwing a Blaming hissy-fit.

    I hold myself accountable to the Objectives and Outcomes statement, too. If I’m going to be late with a deliverable,l I say so to the group, and say when it will be done. In this way I model desired behavior and keep things as untangled as possible.

    Accountability is a framework for trust. Actually doing accountability makes you feel vulnerable every step of the way, but in reality it strengthens your focus and productivity like nothing else can. And it will win you, not only respect and mastery, but also the best colleague relationships that you will ever experience in the workplace.

    Bret, I wonder what your other blog-watchers have to say about their own approaches to creating cultures of accountability?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Once again Beth, your insight has added tremendous value to a conversation. Love your concept of Aim don’t blame. Thanks! Bret