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.
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 –
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.
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.