Don’t start with accountability to get more accountability.

I’ll tell you why.

Let’s consider an “accountability” mindset.

Last episode I focused on the definition of accountability and the importance of understanding what it means, and more important what it doesn’t mean (aka, blame and fear).

Let’s focus now on how to create an atmosphere of accountability and explore it as a practice.

Let’s start with an example.  Think about being on a team.  You are on a team to explore and enhance customer experience practices at your company.  There is a project manager, you, the rest of the team (let’s say 5 people) and your manager (who authorized you to be on the team).

When you consider accountability, who is the most accountable for the results of that project team?  How much accountability would you give the PM if you had to put a percentage on it.  How much for you?  What about the rest of the team?  Your manger?

What are all those numbers and who’s number is the highest?  Take the time to reflect and consider this.

What I commonly find in working with managers, is that often the %’s for accountability are the highest for the PM, followed by ourselves, then the rest of the team, and the manager the least.  Because the PM is in charge, and the manager would probably be pretty hands off.  This makes sense, right?

Because often this is how we think about accountability.  We think of who is more and who is less.  We sometime think about whoever is in charge, or in power is most accountable.  Because if something goes wrong, they have to take the ownership, right?

But there are flaws with this way of thinking….because what if you were rather than considering a customer experience, you were going into an operating room for surgery.  Would you say the surgeon is the most accountable and that others are less so?  Do you want the anesthesiologist or any attending nurses to be less than 100%?  What about the individual(s) who cleaned the room?  Brought in the equipment?  Is there job or role any less important or vital to the success of the surgery? Any one who you would want to show up less than 100% accountable?  Are they not all equally and fully accountable?

Because in the last episode, we said accountability means that we own up to our own actions.  That we are answerable to the outcome.  That we’re willing to look back at our actions/inactions, decisions/non-decisions, and choices and own them—good or bad.

Which means everyone can be 100% accountable.  That’s right.  Simultaneously.  And to some, that is a mind blowing thought.  For those of us who think about who is “more” and who is “less” accountable have a hard time wrapping our brain about this mindset.

But that is exactly what we need to get more accountability.

But rather than starting with wanting more accountability we start at a more effective beginning, and that is with responsibility.

To hold someone accountable in a fair manner— it means we have set clear, reasonable expectations and goals.  One in which the other person has committed too.  Meaning we don’t “assume” they know, or take it for granted that they know what we want.  Think back to that operating room, there are standard procedures in place, protocols and processes so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.  They’ve accepted them by walking into the room.

We too have to be equally clear with those around us.  Trust me it is SO much harder to hold someone accountable when they respond, “Oh I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.” Or “That wasn’t clear.” Or “I didn’t understand.”  And while (sometimes) that is an easy platitude, it is also sadly (sometimes) true.

Step one to get more accountability is to put the emphasis on clear responsibility.  Make sure others understand and commit to the role, task or project.  Responsibility can be shared, as long as roles are clear.

Step two is then to give them ownership over getting the role, task or project done.  Which means you do not micro manage them.  Which means they will try new things, probably make mistakes, take some risks (that heaven forbid you would not take because you know better!).  And you will let them.  While giving them support and clear boundaries, you give them the respect of owning what you’ve given them.

Ownership cannot be shared.  Each individual on a team must maintain ownership over their part of the job, role, task or project.  Each person needs to speak up when they see a problem, or when something is missed, or the train is coming off the tracks.  Not abdicating to whoever is “in charge” rather bringing up any challenges or ideas to those who are in the best position to resolve or address them.  Imagine a world in which everyone maintained ownership.  It’s a beautiful yet highly fuzzy image in my brain. Ownership means we take the actions that are needed to accomplish the goals.  We give it our all.

Step three then is accountability.  Its funny because people who want more accountability start there.  This is the ongoing process, the looking back, assessing what we’ve done or not.  It means we are disciplined enough to ask the hard questions, and also strong enough to recognize and celebrate our accomplishments.

So if you want more accountability in your life, and because you’ve made it to the end of this episode I think you do….change your mindset first.  For you and those around you, know that you can be 100% accountable and responsible at all times.  Know that accountability is a process and a practice.  It starts with clear expectations, one’s that are agreed to.  Then we have to give ownership to others, to allow them to take risks and make mistakes.  Remember that someone allowed you this grace as well.  And finally we demonstrate accountability.  That willingness to own up to our actions, choices and decisions.  We are answerable to the outcome that we created.

Accountability takes awareness, understanding and discipline.  And I have the confidence in you to achieve it.