The whole concept of accountability is tainted with misperceptions, frustration and blame. It is so often someone else’s fault. Within the family constructs, this dynamic is even more frustrating and brings along tension, “stories of why” and more excuses.
Accountability at its core is “doing what you say you will do, when you say you will do it”. The foundation lies in the communication cycle and the definition of the deliverable. Let’s start with the communication cycle and with an example we can all relate to; taking out the trash. Mary asks Jim to take out the trash before dinner. Jim says yes. He knows that dinner is scheduled for 6pm, it is now 4pm. He will get to it. Mary however wants the trash taken out now, not in an hour, although she didn’t communicate that specific detail. Mary is also expecting not just the kitchen trash, but the rest of the trash in the house will be collected, since “everyone” knows that the weekly trash pickup is tomorrow morning. Stress and frustration builds. Mary doesn’t understand why Jim didn’t do it immediately and why the job wasn’t complete. Jim doesn’t understand why Mary is suddenly upset. Sound familiar? I am sure it does.
Now apply that same scenario to the work environment. You may not be asked to take out the trash, however the joy in preforming your duties and the communication concepts are still the same. Your priorities and that of your co-workers might not always weave together well. You get the project completed; however it is later than desired and not to the quality expected. Tensions rise, delivery date to the customer is missed, and quality suffers.
What is the solution?
- Communicate and Ask Questions – Often lack of accountability comes not from insubordination (if it does, then that is a separate discussion), but from the lack of clarity regarding what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and the specific details. Too often assumptions are made regarding the individual’s ability to both tackle and complete the task. One of my friends has been in Information Technology for probably 25 years. He was asked by his supervisor to conduct a project that was fairly large in scope. He was more than willing to take on the project; however he had no idea how to start or what to do to accomplish the projected outcomes. His manager made the assumption that he had actual experience with this type of project in the past and would therefore be successful. Nothing was further from the truth.
- Set Expectations – Set a deadline for when the project needs to be completed, when will you touch base to ensure the project is proceeding as expected, and how long should it take (this goes to both a time and financial budget).
- Understand your audience – The question is often asked, “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer; one bite at a time. The follow-up to this story, however is that the elephant is still in the room, it is still big and too many people really don’t know how to break that “elephant” down. We need to take the first bite, yet we don’t know where to start and therefore become paralyzed. This is where quality leadership and people management makes the difference in success and failure. Good leadership will ensure the person knows what and how to accomplish projects. For individuals who have delivered consistently and have a proven track record, the job is easier. For those who haven’t, it’s the leader’s responsibility to guide them along the path.
One of the most asked questions during an accountability discussion is what are examples of consequences and how do they get enforced. Consequences must be appropriate to the situation. Firing for being late the first time due to a large traffic jam is not appropriate. Here is a story of a large company that doesn’t have the best reputation for how they treat their employees. The CEO of the company had stated that employees must be at their desk by 8:00 am. One day he went to the parking lot of the company at 8:30am and anyone who was just arriving to work was told to go home. He didn’t even allow them inside the building. Did he make a point yes, people in this company are to be at work by 8am. Is this the type of employer I would want to work for – no!
Yet, I will give him credit for stating the rules for the company and for being willing to stand for what he believes and then enforces the rules. He also has employees that have worked with him for decades and the company continues to grow and is profitable – so something must be working.
Consistency is critical. Treating every situation different creates a divisive environment for an organization. Allowing one person to “get away” with not following procedures, not getting things done etc., does more to erode employee morale than the example above where the employer sent everyone home that was late. They knew his policy, they knew the rules. They chose to break them, or get away with things, and it didn’t work.
Most companies I work with on this topic find that everyone complains about the lack of accountability. However, when the organization starts to implement true accountability, people begin to complain about being held accountable. The reality is that everyone wants it for someone else, but not for themselves. It is hard to change, yet worth every step.
The choice is yours. The solution sits in your lap; you can choose to take the challenge of being personally accountable or sit back and complain about the lack of accountability. What is your choice?