In our world and time, it sure seems like accountability is something that happens to us. In fact, it may even seem like accountability is forced on us. There is much cross-industry discussion and pondering about the difference between responsibility and accountability. Many agree that responsibility is often thrust upon us, through the natural hierarchy of duties and rank. Real accountability, on the other hand, means we have intentionally accepted the position of being held responsible for and by something outside of ourselves. No one does accountability to us. We embrace it with full awareness of what’s at stake.
WHAT IS ACCOUNTABILITY?
Our coaching team spends a lot of time with leaders and teams on the concepts of We/They and Ownership. The concepts are often taught together, even though it’s impossible for them to actually exist together. If individuals practice We/They, they are not owning the work, the goals, or the outcomes.
The same is true for accountability. It is impossible for an individual or team to be truly accountable, while simultaneously shirking responsibility, liability, and answerability for a goal or outcome.
Accountable people act in the interest of the larger aims and needs of the organization. There is no need to We/They, pass responsibility, or cover your tail because there is a significant understanding and heightened internal motivation to achieve the goals. Accountable people will do what it takes to help the organization achieve success.
WHY IS ACCOUNTABILITY SO HARD?
Accountability requires us to drop the ego. Accountable people think about the bigger picture outside of themselves. These individuals engage other team members in problem-solving to achieve the outcome, without needing to get the credit. Accountable people regularly request and provide feedback, not just during formal performance reviews or on the heels of a misstep. They look at feedback as a way to ensure continued growth of themselves, others, and the organization.
Our greatest human instinct is survival. When setbacks occur, our most natural inclination is to look for someone or something to blame. It’s easier to think about and position barriers as out of the team’s (or individual’s) control, than it is to treat them as problems to solve. This survival instinct is also why We/They and other blame-passing behaviors become rampant in some organizations. After all, organizations are full of a bunch of humans seeking survival.
The only way to reduce the survival instinct, and its related habits on our team, is to create a safe environment for individuals to practice accountability. This starts with leaders modeling accountability. Team members are watching how we think about and react to barriers, the way we communicate progress, the way we interact with others, and the way we accept responsibility.
BEING ACCOUNTABLE IN 3 STEPS
When barriers arise, frame them as problems to solve. Consistently thinking about challenges or barriers as something happening to you leads to victim thinking and excuse making. This also puts us on the slippery slope to We/They and other blaming behaviors. By looking at barriers as opportunities to find new solutions, we become accountable to the organization and its success. Build an internal dialogue about barriers and challenge any blaming thoughts with, “How can I solve this?” Focus on what can be done.
Openly sharing updates and progress on individual and collective projects is a strong indicator of accountability. When we are transparent about setbacks and triumphs, we demonstrate our agreement to be held responsible by others for outcomes that are most meaningful to the organization. If asked, would your team members know your individual progress toward a goal?
Accountable individuals seek, appreciate, and integrate suggestions from the team. When working on a project or task, make it a habit to ask for feedback or an alternative perspective. This communicates your commitment to the larger picture and others who might be impacted. Those with high levels of accountability also intentionally provide feedback or offer support to others when things are going right, not just when they go wrong.