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Accountability 101: Leaders Go First

April 10, 2017 Kaylene Eckels

What does accountability mean? Miriam Webster defines accountability as: the quality or state of being accountable. An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.

Unfortunately, within many organizations, zeal for accountability may fall by the wayside because most employees still view accountability as a punishment for failure, versus a personal commitment to be responsible for a specific goal or task. Images of stuffy suits pounding fists on the table and grumbling, “someone must be held accountable,” or, “who is accountable for this mess?” can mistakenly be conjured if clear and visible definitions are not utilized and adhered to by all levels of your team. This mentality can also create many unintended consequences including finger pointing, lack of trust, lack of transparency, and lack of action for fear of failure; all negatively impacting the success of your business and team.

On the flip side, accountability when clearly defined and executed can engage your workforce and drive unprecedented results. Below are three simple steps to help redefine accountability within your organization and get you started on the path to creating a more accountable workforce.

Establish a Clear Definition

The best way to ensure everyone is on the same page is to clearly define what accountability looks like within your team or company. Own it, define it, train it, and make it visible so everyone has the same message. It must be clear that accountability is personal ownership of an agreed upon goal or objective; a commitment to deliver a specific action and/or result. Own it, define it, train it and make it visible throughout your business! Communicate your definition in huddles, screen savers, posters, and newsletter articles; you cannot over communicate. Make sure you leverage several mediums to reach all parties.

Set Clear Expectations

After you have established and communicated an agreed-upon definition of accountability for your organization, the next step is to ensure that expectations are properly set. When should you do this? The correct answer is anytime an expectation is created or changed. It is critical to define who, what, why, how and by when. In addition, there must also be clearly defined consequences for both success and failure. Engaging your employee or team here is critical. Ask them, what will success mean for the business or individual? Conversely, what impact would failure have on the business or individual? This can help create buy-in and fuel understanding of how the individual and team fits into broader organizational goals.

Lead by Example

The best form of accountability is one where leaders go first by ensuring the conditions for accountability have been properly set. Next, leaders must also ensure that commitments to the team have been met in support of achieving the goal. Leading by example in this key area will not only build trust within your organization, but set a powerful example that others are willing to follow.

Simon Sinek wrote a book titled, Leaders Eat Last, that highlights the importance of building trust within an organization and the benefits this creates through employee loyalty. People will give their all to accomplish the company vision as laid out by their leader when the employees believe their leader puts employee needs ahead of their own. This is a powerful concept that has been proven time and time again. This same theory is at play with accountability. Leaders Eat Last, but with taking accountability, Leaders Go First!

In conclusion, by establishing a clear definition of accountability, setting clear expectations, and leading by example you will be well on your way to creating a culture of accountability within your organization.