Most people view accountability as something that belittles them or happens only when performance wanes, problems develop, results suffer, something goes wrong, or someone seeks to identify the cause of the problem, all for the sake of pinning blame and pointing the finger. When things sail along smoothly, people rarely ask, “Who is accountable for this success?”
Most dictionaries define accountability in a negative view. Consider Webster’s definition: “subject to having to report, explain, or justify; being answerable and responsible.” The words “subject to” imply little choice in the matter. This suggests that accountability is a consequence for poor performance, something you should fear or avoid. When people experience accountability this way, they shun it and justify poor results.
We need a more positive and powerful definition of accountability. Consider ours: “A personal choice to rise above your circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary to achieve desired results.
This definition includes a mindset of asking, “What else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the desired results?” It involves seeing it, owning it, solving it, and doing it, and requires making, keeping, and answering for personal commitments. Such a perspective embraces current and future efforts rather than reactive, historical explanations. With this new definition, you can help yourself and others do everything possible to overcome difficult circumstances and achieve desired results.
Accountability in Action
As hard as he tried, Dave Schlotterbeck, CEO of Alaris Medical Systems, could not get his 2,900 employees to perform. The $500 million company had resulted from a merger of IVAC and Imed. While the merger should have produced strength, debt and under-performance stalled all efforts.
The breakthrough at Alaris was the result of focused effort. Through a series of cross-functional feedback sessions between operations, sales, quality, customer care and service, individuals were confronted with hard facts. People could see the problem and how they could change it. They overcame the barriers of functional expertise and prefer ences and aligned themselves for the common good. ALARIS attained a culture of accountability in which everyone wanted to do and achieve more.
Here are four steps to take in creating a culture of accountability
- Know what result you need to reach. Whether you have a sales goal, a delivery date for your product, or a minimum ROI to achieve, know what result you need to reach. Once you set the goat make it clear to all managers and employees. Everyone must know what they are working for and how their job moves the company forward.
- Generate joint accountability for results. This occurs when everyone assumes accountability for the result. No one can even think, let alone say, that he has done his job if the team has not achieved its targeted result. In fact, no one can think or say that she has achieved her individual result if the company has not achieved its result. Leaders can create joint accountability by targeting a clear result, driving the result though the company, and holding everyone accountable for achieving the result—not just doing his or her job. Joint accountability demands that everyone become accountable for producing the results the company must achieve.
- Keep people focused on achieving the result, not just putting in time and doing tasks. Often, job descriptions push people into boxes. They give people the idea that they are getting paid and using their skills to perform a defined function or task. The task mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions, they’ve done the job, whether or not the result is achieved. Effective leaders lead people beyond the boundaries of their jobs and inspire them to relentlessly pursue results by creating a culture that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” until the results are achieved. They help people see that their “job” is to achieve the results. The daily activities that comprise people’s jobs must be aligned with the targeted results.
- Direct you own destiny. Only when you assume full accountability for your thoughts, feelings, actions and results can you direct your own destiny; otherwise, someone else will. Accountability enables you to influence events and outcomes before they happen. You will gain much more from a proactive posture than from a reactive one.
This view of accountability can help revitalize your character, strengthen your competitiveness, heighten innovation, improve the quality of your products and services, and increase your responsiveness to the needs and wants of your customers and constituents. When you create a culture of accountability, you will achieve the results you want, and everyone will help you along the way.