Accountability: Is It a Hollow Word These Days?

Has The Spirit Of People Taking Responsibility Been Lost?

By Steve Schumacher

The concept of accountability for results has been around since the beginning of time. Individual responsibility for one’s actions, whether it be for just one person or more than one person, has been the fuel of progress in our society. 

Leaving things to chance or luck has not been the American way in business. Productivity, quality, customer satisfaction, etc. all rely on someone stepping up and saying “the buck stops here.” Everyone in business has a boss. It is that boss that must ensure that accountability is in place and is effective.

Unfortunately, the concept of accountability has taken on a tone of punishment and negativity the last several years. When we hear the term these days, it usually is said in a demanding tone, in a public setting. The cumulative effect on us now is that our feelings about accountability carry strong feelings of finger pointing. As a leader, it is important to understand how your employees will hear that word, if and when you choose to use it in a business context.

In business, everyone must understand that they were hired and are on the payroll to get results, period. Certainly, there are many ancillary activities associated with all positions, but without accountability for results, a leader must question why the position even exists. Oftentimes, people lose their primary focus on getting results and just focus on staying busy. Stephen Covey once said, “the main thing is to make sure the main thing stays the main thing.” Accountability for results is the main thing.

The following are some things that a leader can do to create a culture of accountability.

Assessment. Take a look around to see what the current culture is surrounding the issue of accountability. Pull some historical data and see if you can identify what the trends have been around results in your organization. Are they consistently high/low/average? Greater or less than expectations? Talk to your managers to see how they present accountability to their people and how they follow-up. Talk to the HR department about the performance review process and see if it is built around accountability for results. Ask a cross-section of employees about accountability and what it means to them.

Lay the groundwork for change. Now that you have your assessment completed and a baseline of accountability, it is time to lay a foundation. Have a clear and compelling vision of what accountability means to you and where the current gaps are. Meet with your managers and go over all of this information and tell them you expect their active support. Body language will tell you a lot at this gathering, so watch how your managers respond. In fact, it is so important, you may want to bring in an outside observer just to watch body language. Share your roadmap with your team and have them do the same thing with their teams. Set a follow-up schedule with your managers to check progress and give feedback.

Expect push back. As you know, change is difficult for a lot of people. As a leader, be proactive with helping others get through the change. Some long-term employees may have never felt true accountability and may be fearful of losing their jobs. These are people that need to be assessed as to their skills and abilities. If those do not match the expected results, extra training and coaching may be needed. The goal in this process is to help everyone get to a level of exceeding expectations, not to fire people. Keep an eye on your managers. Some of them may see this as an opportunity to cut expenses and headcount. That may end up happening, but training, development and coaching need to be tried first. Accountability is a tool to help employees perform well. If that tool has not been in place before, your employees have not been equipped to perform well.

Celebrate successes. As soon as the new culture of accountability becomes clear to everyone you will start having employees who jump on board and thrive in the new culture. Have your managers make you aware of those folks and get them public recognition. Doing this consistency will help you make it clear to everyone that, in order to get recognition, employees must do it according to the new vision of accountability.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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