Word for the Week: Accountability

This past week, I have been working with many different organizations and there has been a common theme that has surfaced – it is accountability. The word accountability is often inaccurately defined, and ineffectively applied. In the workplace, accountability is defined as the act of holding others responsible or answerable for their actions (good or bad), for exemplary job performance, and achieving business results. Many people only think about accountability when it is centers around consequences of not performing. I want to make sure we take a complete approach to accountability the good and bad!

My thoughts focus on families, organizations and society as a whole, one of the reasons for failure is the inability by leadership to establish and enforce accountability. When you build a house you have to have a strong foundation. When it comes to accountability, you have to use these 5 items to build that foundation of your leadership skills.

  • Clearly define the expectation or standard. If you are raising your family, you have to have defined expectations for your kids. Because of their lack of experience, kids with no expectations can easily run wild. Ever watch reality TV shows like “The Nanny”? First step in every situation was setting expectations. When it comes to business, this is no different. The only saving grace in some situations are that the people involved have experiences and will set their own expectations for you. The problem with that is they may not match what is needed for overall success of the organization. As a leader, you want success. Well, set clear expectations.
  • Involve staff in efforts to setting expectations. One of the items that I have learned from all of the years of experience has been get your team involved with setting expectations, rewards and potential consequences. Some would say you can’t do this with your kids, but I would argue you can. Sitting down and talking together to set the expectation, rewards and potential punishments is a great starting point. Being a part of setting expectation helped me do a better job of having my teams meet those expectations. It makes those expectations seem less likely that they were forced down their throats.
  • Implement. All the talk is over. It is time for the leader to make sure that the expectations are in place, communicate and reinforced them. To build accountability, the newly agreed upon standard or expectation must be fully integrated into every aspect of the work environment – to include the training and development process, performance review criteria, and all applicable systems and work processes. This shows that you are thorough, mean business, and have a sustainability strategy in mind. And guess what? Your team should be 100% involved in this process – to build teamwork, camaraderie, and to make them feel like valued contributors to the organization’s success.
  • Set up measurements to quantity success. Setting expectations without being able to measure it, just doesn’t seem to work. If you can measure it, then people will make it happen. I also look for ways to objectively measure the expectation. Once that is set, I insure that everyone can track their own piece of the expectation. No one wants to fail! If the team can see that they are ahead or behind, they will take appropriate actions. If not, then you can step in – with data.
  • Recognize success and coach for improvement. The key here is recognizing success. This really is the behavior that you want to continue to have demonstrated by your team. This will help with the healthy competition among the team to be rewarded. When you have to, coach those that are not meeting the expectations. It is not always the most favorable item, but if you ignore it – the problems and morale from the team will be effected greatly. Leaders have to be willing to do both…I think that when you think back to “The Nanny” the reason that all the running wild was simply no consequences for not living up to the expectation. A reminder that you’re their parent, not their friend. Same goes for being the team leader.

Early on in my career, I thought that if I just told them what the expectation was they would deliver. That really did not work out well, every time. I quickly realized that pulling the team in to help set expectations helped to meet those expectations more frequently. Want another step function improvement? Roll up your sleeves and do the work that they are doing. Watch how quickly your understanding of the expectations improve and those that are doing the work will try harder. Lastly, the most important improvement to getting expectation met, was making sure that I took action when exception or lacking performance was demonstrated.

Think about if we all took accountability seriously in every aspect of life? If our government officials really took accountability serious? I think we all would be better off.  Try it and let me know how it is working!

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