‘Are you ‘accountable’?’

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What is accountability?
One of the most elusive concepts in management is accountability. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions within the realm of a role or position, inclusive of the obligation to report, and be answerable for resulting outcomes. Once accountability becomes a part of your management style, you will see improved results and more satisfied employees.

Not surprisingly, most dictionaries present a definition of accountability that promotes this somewhat negative view, “Subject to having to report, explain, or justify; being answerable, responsible.” Notice how the definition begins with the words “subject to,” implying little choice in the matter. This confession-oriented and powerless definition suggests what we all have observed — accountability is viewed as a consequence for poor performance; it’s a principle you should fear because it can only end up hurting you.

Since most people experience accountability this way, it’s no wonder they spend so much time shunning it and explaining and justifying poor results. A more positive and powerful definition of accountability can do more to achieve outstanding results than all the finger pointing and blaming in the world.

Consider the following new definition of accountability: “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results — to ‘See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It.’”

This definition includes a mindset or attitude of continually asking, “What else can I do to rise above my circumstances and achieve the results I desire?” It involves a process of seeing it, owning it, solving it, and doing it, and requires a level of ownership that includes making, keeping, and answering for personal commitments. Such a perspective embraces both current and future efforts rather than reactive and historical explanations. Armed with this new definition of accountability, you can help yourself and others do everything possible to both overcome difficult circumstances and achieve desired results.

It starts with you
Great management can only be achieved by those who are able to manage themselves before managing others. The great manager knows how to manage him or herself while getting the most optimal results from the people, resources and other support under their supervision.

If you believe you are a great manager, then ask yourself these critical questions:

1. When did your performance expectations not meet the desired outcomes?
2. What could you have you done differently to attain established goals or desired set outcomes?
3. Do you continue to uphold the missing factor(s) in your work?

If the answer to question three is “no,” then you should reevaluate your management role and make a real commitment to manage yourself (and/or learn how to). Because when you manage others, they (in most cases) are relying upon you to help them be successful and reach new levels of achievement and success in their work.

Accountability is more than a phrase that is part of a scripted apology. Accountability quite literally is the ability to account for one’s actions.

So now that the high-level definition is out of the way, let’s fully define and lay out the true meaning of the term, starting with what needs to be in place for accountability to exist:

1. Clear Goals Must Be Established: Measurable project objectives should be defined, documented and communicated.
2. Adequate Resources and Authority Must Be Granted: Sufficient resources (e.g., financial, technical and human), control and influence must be made available.
3. Specific Consequences Must Be Predetermined: Expectations for success and failure are established, documented and communicated.

Ambiguity regarding set expectations for a given project must be eliminated and great care taken to ensure that all involved share the same definition of success. It does not matter who the leader is, projects that begin without a clear, shared picture of the end goal(s) are doomed to failure. Project goals should be Relevant, Realistic and Reportable.

Relevant – goals are aligned with overarching business objectives.
Realistic – attainable given the known constraints.
Reportable – performance against the key success metric(s) can be objectively measured and communicated.

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(Excerpt of Accountability in Action): ‘The ALARIS Story’
As hard as he tried, Dave Schlotterbeck, CEO of ALARIS Medical Systems, just could not get the organization to perform. ALARIS had missed both top and bottom line performance numbers for three years running. Nothing Schlotterbeck did made any difference. The breakthrough at ALARIS was the result of focused effort at every level of the organization. Through a series of cross-functional feedback sessions held between operations, sales, customer care, quality and service, individuals confronted the group with hard facts that many did not want to hear. These sessions helped everyone to “see it” and build greater cooperation. People recognized the problem and how they could personally change it. Employees overcame the natural barriers of functional expertise and preferences and aligned themselves for the common good. Powerful forces went to work to improve performance in dramatic ways.

With the organization hitting and, in many cases, exceeding, its quarterly numbers for the first time since the merger, Wall Street rewarded this impressive turnaround with an equally impressive increase in stock price—a whopping 900%. In May 2003, Money Magazine listed ALARIS as the top performing stock for the prior twelve months on all three major stock exchanges. ALARIS had finally attained a culture of accountability in which everyone wanted to do and achieve more.

Accountability in the culture
Accountability is the inner blood of a company, existing in both micro and macro levels and ensuring the concentrated efforts and supports of every employee in an organization. It is vital to bring in success; if co-workers can’t keep commitment within themselves, they won’t be able doing so to the external world. If it does not exist on every level from the top management to the low level direct laborers, the message that organisation sends to external world will be clear. An entire work force’s accountability is what adds the icing to a company’s reputation; it’s not only with superior management skills alone that success could be achieved. Accountability imparts an organization its competitive edge, its productivity, increases, and  opportunities – all of them are absolutely vital for a long-term business growth.

What makes accountability suffer? First, it is a lack of trust. Without it – everything in organization is paralyzed. Second, nonexistence of a powerful accountability system in place that will ensure that all involved stay on the same page fully committed. Third, lack of specific information about goals, strategies, specific actions and overall involvement in the process. Next comes commitment and responsibility as some of us clearly avoid these two all the time. You must be clear about this, your business is not the safe harbor cruising.

So, what say you? Are you accountable or responsible? How do you determine which answer is appropriate? Are there ever times when the answer is both? What have you learned so far on this journey?

The idea is that to grow and be effective as a leader, you have to pick up accountability for many results and let go of responsibility for a few results.

(Please share your comments and/or feedback)

    • rupacoach
    • September 23rd, 2013

    Reblogged this on Resilience Coaching, Life Coaching and commented:
    I feel the idea of personal accountability also can be introduced in schools through leadership programs such as the Stephen Covey’s Leader in Me program. Schools implementing such programs see a rising sense of personal accountability in the students leading to better grades and cooperation among students.

  1. Keep this going please, great job!

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    I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.

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