What does accountability look like? Part 1: at work

Accountability is a funny thing. There are so many different interpretations of what it is, who has it, who should have it, and of course the enigma of how to coach it in others.

Interestingly when I ask many business owners and leaders about who should be accountable in their businesses, many of them say that ultimately the buck stops with them and therefore they should be the most accountable.

This is very noble thinking but unfortunately a surefire way to hold you and your business (or team) back.

What do we mean by accountability?

Broadly speaking it’s about getting it done, on or before the deadline! Of course “it” can be defined as whatever is required in your job, but accountability can be super useful in running your life. And I’ve never met anyone who was not accountable in their life and who magically turned it on at work. So anyone who thinks that things happen “to” them rather than “because” of them is probably not going to be naturally high on accountability at work. That’s the topic of another blog…

Results not excuses – So back to the work environment, it’s about knowing what’s expected, by when, and if some obstacles come up, it’s about renegotiating before the deadline or coming up with a workaround to still get results rather than just falling back on some “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Helpful vs unhelpful thinking – Things don’t always go according to plan and while we may not always know the solution immediately, helpful thinking will help us to ask the right questions, and be creative in how we might achieve the required results by the required time. Going straight to the excuse is not helpful thinking.

There is always a solution – Accountable people have the belief that there is always a solution. I’ll say that again – there is always a solution. Excuses aren’t an option.

No blame – See a problem? How are you going to be part of the solution? Many people are really good at highlighting problems and what others should do to fix the situation. An accountable person will see a problem and firstly look inside themselves to see what they can do to be part of the solution. They don’t point the finger and blame others. While they may enlist the help of others they certainly don’t blame others.

Accountability leads to psychological safety which increases performance.

When people are feeling like they could be blamed, they very quickly go to a “cover your butt” attitude and probably blaming others, rather than raising their hand and saying what they could have done better. Blaming others, and being fearful of being blamed, is the opposite of a high performance culture. When people are feeling psychologically unsafe they are spending energy credits being stressed rather than spending energy credits doing great work and getting great results.

Remember that energy is your currency, so ensuring an efficient use of energy credits is crucial for productivity and profitability.

If you don’t coach accountability, you will spend your life following up other people’s work…..

If you are not expecting your team to be accountable you will be spending way too many of your energy credits following up on other people’s work – where are they at? Will the work be delivered on time? Constantly revising deadlines with clients. What else could you spend those energy credits on that would increase your productivity?? Probably a lot of things. 

Accountability doesn’t happen by osmosis

With so many different expectations on what constitutes accountability, it’s no wonder an accountability culture doesn’t just happen by osmosis.

Have the conversation about creating a culture of accountability. What exactly does it mean? Maybe you could use the points mentioned above, maybe you create your own language, but it needs to be clearly articulated.

Widespread accountability will save everyone a bucket of energy credits and increase productivity.

Be clear with what’s expected to be delivered, by when, and the consequences (yes you need consequences) for if this doesn’t happen.

Accountability is arguably the most essential ingredient of a high performance culture. Get it right and leadership becomes way easier!

If you would like help building a culture of accountability in your business or team, please do get in touch, or come along to one of our open workshops.

Read What does accountability look like? Part 2: at home