A manager at one of my clients put it this way: The biggest problem we have around here is that no one will accept responsibility for anything … but don’t quote me on that.”
There are a lot of factors that could contribute to your lack of results – time, talent, resources – but for most of us the difference between excellence and mediocrity comes down to accountability.
If accountability – accepting personal responsibility and ownership for results – didn’t matter, the smartest or most talented people would experience the greatest levels of success. The company’s with the best product or service would dominate the marketplace. And, every government agency would deliver at such a high level that citizens would view them as a great value. Those, however, are the exception rather than the rule.
Talent, time, experience, and resources do matter. Your youth league baseball team has no chance against even the worst professional team. You can’t compete against competitors running the latest technology to make their operations more efficient if you are still using an abacus to balance your books. The man or woman you have never heard of on the professional golf tour will beat me on their worst day.
But that’s not who you compete against. Your competitors don’t hire all the smart people and leave you with the dunces. Their technology and resources may be different, but not drastically so. Accountability is – more times than not – the difference between achieving your goals and missing the mark.
How to Know You are in an Accountability Crisis
Accountability is a little like pornography. You know it when you see it and you know it when you don’t. The lack of accountability can usually be seen in variations of these three behaviors:
- Blaming others and pointing fingers. Are people regularly thrown under the bus by managers and colleagues? Are you blaming the economy, the competition, or some other outside factor for the lack of your success? Is your failure to deliver results always someone else’s fault? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
- Assuming that others are responsible. Do people in your organization wait to be told what to do, or do they take action when they see something that needs to be done? Are the choruses of “it’s not my job” becoming your theme song? Do your managers demand that people check their brains at the door or punish initiative? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
- Failure to tell or recognize the truth. Are messengers shot? Is the organization crumbling at its foundation while everyone celebrates a faux accomplishment? Do you believe that there are no opportunities for improvement or there is no need to change anything? If so, there is an impending accountability crisis.
Here are three things you can do immediately to stem the accountability crisis you are facing:
- Tell yourself the truth – value candor and honesty. Nothing ever changes until we tell ourselves the truth. Ask for feedback, and make an honest assessment. If you are a manager, create the environment where you are hearing what’s really going on rather than what others want you to hear. The same applies to individuals. You are achieving the results you have earned the right to achieve. If those aren’t to your liking, it is time to tell yourself the truth.
- Don’t confuse activity and results. Working hard is important, but working hard and delivering results are not the same. For managers, set goals that focus on accomplishment not how you spend your time. Reinforce hard work, but recognize results. Coach your employees to results not activity. For individuals, be selfish about your time. Don’t allow busy work to crowd out important work.
- Be willing to confront. Henry Givray, CEO of the SmithBucklin Corporation, told me, “You have to be relentless and unwavering about looking at the contributions people make to the mission and behaviors consistent with our values.” Relentless and unwavering doesn’t mean ruthless and cold-hearted. It does mean that accountability begins with the leader. To promote accountability in others, begin with your own accountability to confront contributions and behaviors.
Accountability requires courage: Courage to tell and value the truth. Courage to remain keenly focused on results that matter, and courage to be relentless and unwavering as we look at contribution and behavior. The failure to stem a crisis of accountability places us on the path to mediocrity and worse – irrelevance.