Communication, Leadership are Keys to Accountability

At the Core of Accountability

An adolescent living in a highly impoverished community might be taught that accountability means stealing or begging for food as the only means of securing nourishment to support survival.

If that child lives on a farm, they might be taught accountability through tending to the animals or helping with the harvest. And, if that child lives in the Lehigh Valley, they might be taught accountability by completing chores like looking after sibling, picking up after themselves, taking out the trash, or cutting the grass.

Learning the meaning of accountability takes on different perspectives based on which part of the world we live. It is not restricted to a particular culture, religious belief, ethic group, skin color, age, or other similar elements. Most every child is taught some form of accountability starting at a very early age.

shutterstock_188461469 People learning in group

Growing into accountability

As we grow through our stages of maturing, we learn to be accountable and responsible for many things. More things than we could have imagined or anticipated as children.

When we enter the workforce, we become accountable for the work we produce. But we are not always enlightened to the impact our personal accountability or lack of accountability can have on other aspects of the company – people, productivity, performance and profits. This is usually a result of departmental or divisional silos, onboarding processes that do not include full spectrum shadowing, or lack of the use of cross functional groups for training or problem solving.

Making accountability personal

In the business world, companies struggle when individuals, at all levels of the organization, fail to demonstrate personal accountability. The simplest thing, like not putting a work tool back in its proper location, can result in lost time and revenue, missed deadlines, and lots of aggravation. More complex examples create greater struggles, and in fact, can cause damage to relationships, poor communication, erosion of trust, loss of income and profitability, and much worse.

Our busy lives keep us so distracted, that many times we take things like accountability for granted, and expect that everyone else knows what we believe. The first sign of a breakdown in that line of thinking is when things don’t go according to plan. People have a tendency to look at others to shoulder the blame or consequences, instead of looking inward and seeing what they could have done differently to produce a better outcome of the situation.

Check your team’s understanding of accountability

You may think everyone on your team understands what being accountable means in your company. But, when you take individual cultures and how and what we learn as children into consideration, you may be surprised how people respond to these questions –

  • What is accountability?

  • What does accountability look like? Sound like? Feel like?

The longer people work together, and create synergetic relationships, the more similarly they will answer these questions. Asking your team to describe a key word like “accountability” at different levels of understanding (look like, sound like, feel like) will help them have a deeper, more visual perspective.

Take the exercise a step further

Working with companies from a variety of industries, I find the following questions helpful in demonstrating how powerful personal accountability is, and the impact it has in the workplace.

  • Show the team individual pictures of various business environments like – an operating room, a teller line in a bank, the kitchen in a restaurant, and a manufacturing assembly line.

  • Ask “What would happen in each of these environments if one person did not take personal accountability?” You can just imagine some of the responses.

  • Then show a picture of your business, and ask the same question. Watch how the body language changes, and listen to the words people use. By helping everyone realize whatever can happen in those other businesses, can happen “here” when one person is not being accountable, will be very eye opening. Everyone will get a very clear picture of the importance of personal accountability.

  • I also encourage people to use this concept with their loved ones if they are struggling with teaching personal accountability in their lives. By changing out the pictures of businesses to environments that are related to personal lives, similar conclusions will result, and the impact to the individual will be reinforced 10 fold.

Accountability, from the top? Does it matter?

Demonstrating personal accountability does not need to start at the top of an organization, but it probably should. Many people model accountability while working in organizations where the top leader’s primary shortcoming is a lack of accountability. It is not the healthiest and most productive work environment, but unfortunately, it exists in many businesses.

Business leaders run the risk of being viewed as lacking accountability when they continue to ignore poor behaviors and performance coming from “loyal” individuals, avoid communicating critical information to employees, and do not invest in training for themselves and others. These things can have a negative impact on the company’s culture and bottom line performance, making people feel less valued and uninspired. Sooner or later, they will be on to greener pastures.

Learning the meaning of accountability may take on different perspectives based on which part of the world we live. It is not restricted to a particular culture, religious belief, ethic group, skin color, age, or other similar elements.

When leaders continue to ignore poor performance from “loyal” individuals, they risk being viewed as lacking accountability to the company’s culture, team, and overall performance.