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Accountability -ABCs of Business and Leadership


A is for...Accountability

At this rate, we will never make it to Z, but the As are so juicy I just can’t help myself! So far in this series of ABCs, we have look at Abundance and Awareness. On the surface, neither of these seem to be terribly business or leadership related, at least not directly. Indirectly, however, being able to maintain a strong sense of Abundance along with acute Awareness are vital tools in these challenging times. And now, I am going to wade into Accountability with some degree of trepidation.


Why the hesitance around this key concept? Because I have seen the dark side of accountability. When we as leaders and managers are asked to hold people ‘accountable’ it usually means that we are being asked to come down hard on them. Yes, sometimes coming down hard may be a necessary part of the program, but if this is the extent of your Accountability Culture, you will not succeed in motivating, inspiring, and building a sense of alignment within the team. In fact, this one-sided approach reinforces the types of behaviour that we are trying to move away from.


Accountability is NOT about assigning blame and applying punishment. In fact, when accountability is strong within your organization, the need to take corrective action with your people is dramatically lessened. When there is a deep-rooted understanding of what accountability is, there is payoff:

· Your people end up driving results in their areas of responsibility,

· Individuals take ownership for their performance,

· Within teams there is a positive sense of joint accountability, and

· The organization propels itself forward.


Accountability is about ownership, and with that comes inherent responsibility. Accountable organizations are filled with people who not only own their individual behaviour and performance, but also own the team’s variances from intended results. [CdV1] Intended results are measured and action is taken to ensure that desired outcomes are met. When we surpass budgeted results, there is cause to celebrate those successes. When a department falls short, we don’t make excuses or point the finger; we adjust the game plan and work to make up for lost ground.


There are two foundational aspects of accountability: First and foremost, there is accountability to self. Secondly, there is accountability for self to the team and to the greater good of the organization. The former is the most difficult.

Accountability to self is the cornerstone in my view. Without strong accountability to oneself, extending the same to others will be less effective and come across as inauthentic. This requires focus and discipline, much of which I am admittedly lacking at times. We need to remain accountable to ourselves on a continuing basis so that we remain healthy moving forward as individuals. This includes establishing boundaries and sticking to healthy habits to restore and protect our own health, personal development, esteem, and identity.


If we are not accountable to ourselves and don’t actively hold ourselves to our commitments to self, we will be diminished as individuals. Thirty-four years of marriage has taught me that there is someone in my life who will hold me accountable to all manner of standards of behaviour. The same may be true of family, friends, coaches, and any community that we belong to. This is of considerable importance as we all veer off the intended path at times.

Ultimately though, it is an inside job that requires regular check-ins, measurement, and course correction. But please remember, accountability to self is not about self-criticism, self-hatred, or any form of violence to self. It is about ensuring that we remain true to what we know to be best for ourselves and those around us, that we remain true to our values. When we slip up, and that happens all the time, we simply recognize that fact, adjust, and keep moving ahead.


In terms of accountability for self, this is about being true to our words and actions – people know that they can count on us and, for that matter, that we can count on ourselves. Beyond that, accountability to others revolves around taking authentic ownership of results in our areas of responsibility and of the goals and tasks that we have committed to. Really, don’t we want to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and like what we see?


When your organization is filled with people who are both accountable to themselves and to those they work with, shit just gets done, and at a high level. The need to handhold and babysit lessens, initiative is taken, and people do what they must do to get the desired results. When things do not work out, when taking the risk does not pan out, team members are willing to own that result as much as they are when things turn out as they should. Why? Because you have a bunch of people thinking like owners, who do not point the finger, make excuses, and here’s the kicker, are not afraid to make mistakes!


Laura McKowen, author of We are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life and Push Off From Here: Nine Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else) – yes, I am embracing an Alcohol-Free life – states four of her essential truths: It is not your fault, it is your responsibility, it’s unfair that it is your thing, but it is your thing. Ownership doesn’t mean we have necessarily chosen the ‘thing’, it simply means that we have the responsibility to deal with it appropriately – we are to own it.


Accountability is like that. You cannot delegate it, pass it off, or ignore it… whatever it happens to be. Sometimes we all must be accountable for things that may not directly be our doing. Yet, we still must own them and the outcome. In an organization, family, or community when there is both individual and mutual accountability, what must be done gets done for the greater good of the entity. Without this, the threads of the fabric begin to fray, and the desired results slip away.


Summary – How to Build Accountability in Your Business

· Build a culture of ownership of roles and outcomes – Delegate, empower, and regularly measure effectiveness and results. Focus on critical numbers that really matter. I suggest weekly measurement and review.

· Empower, delegate, and measure – Avoid the tendency to micro-manage.

· Accountability is both personal and company-wide – Ensure that your key people ‘have a number’ that they are responsible for hitting and that all eyeballs on are these metrics jointly.

· Have an updated Organizational Chart that clearly identifies the top areas of accountability for each role. I recommend that you check out the Accountability Chart used by EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System run businesses. This structure lays out very clearly who is in what role and what they are responsible for – what they ‘own’.

· Consider journaling - Write down goals, achievements, progress, and milestones for yourself and monitor these weekly. Keeping yourself on track with your commitments to ‘self’ lays the foundation for success.

· Follow up, follow up, follow up (including with self).

· If you don’t have one, consider getting an accountability partner or a community of accountability partners within the business and establish a culture of mutual ownership. It does take a village, after all.


Until next time!


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