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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Accountability – November 25, 2005

Archive: Accountability – November 25, 2005

January 7th, 2009

Accountability is important for everyone

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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Too often, when we hear the word accountability at work, we cringe, sure that this means we are going to be held responsible for something, often something we didn’t even have the authority to actually make happen. Most of us have probably come to think of accountability as a negative concept – something punitive that is sure to be mentioned on our next performance review. There is a place for accountability, though. We have managers and co-workers who are operating without any sense of accountability and this can lead to major issues in both your current job and your career.

Accountability can come in many forms. There is the top-down enforcement of accountability, where managers expect you to be responsible for your actions and then there is personal accountability, where you expect yourself to be responsible for your actions. In many cases, though, it seems that neither of these forms apply. Managers can hold you responsible for tasks that you have no authority to accomplish or abdicate their own accountability by blaming their staff for every failure, regardless of the true cause. As individuals, we can ignore our own accountability by placing blame on others or simply ignoring deadlines and other commitments that we make. You might think, “who cares if that program is a week late? No one will notice anyway.” While you often have little control over the former situation, the latter is entirely under your control.

We have all met or worked with people who have no sense of personal accountability. They almost never do anything unless they are forced. They routinely miss deadlines. They shuffle blame around like a poker hand. It can be very frustrating and also quite damaging to have people such as this on your team. They often lower the quality of work of an entire department and, given enough people, destroy an entire company.

Hold yourself, and others, accountable

So, what do you do when faced with a group of people without any sense of accountability? First, you need to set a good example. Do you practice personal accountability? Do you hold yourself accountable for your commitments? Do you deliver on your commitments when you said you would deliver? It is foolish to expect accountability in others if you don’t first exhibit the trait yourself. That said, you will often see managers who complain about missed deadlines, budget overages and more even though they regularly fail to deliver on their own commitments. This shows just how blind we can all be.

In my business, I have to maintain the highest levels of accountability, or I will see a direct effect on my bottom line. If I do not deliver what I promised, when I promised, I have to face this client directly. I have to take accountability for my actions, as there is simply no one else around to do it. Even if you are embedded deep inside a corporate department, start thinking like an independent consultant. How would you feel if you had to sit down with the client yourself and explain why you didn’t deliver on your commitments? Would you do things differently in the first place? Then start out by doing them differently now.

Next, you must hold those around you accountable for their actions and commitments. Too often, people are allowed to ignore their own lack of accountability. If you want to make a difference in your company, department or job you need to stop “letting things slide.” Those around you might caution you to “not sweat the small stuff,” but I believe that big problems are made from small problems that were ignored.

If someone consistently ignores their commitments, they should be warned once, maybe twice. If they continue to ignore their commitments, their projects should be re-assigned to others. Finally, when it is seems clear they aren’t going to change, they should be fired. If you are a co-worker of this person, you may need to push your management on this. They could be reluctant to fire people, even when they are performing badly. You need to address the issue for your own sake, though. These people effect your own ability to get work done and could prevent you on delivering on your own commitments.

Continuing to employee people who have no sense of personal accountability impedes the work of everyone in the company. If your best workers are constantly waiting on this worker to complete a task, you are crippling their productivity. You are bringing everyone down to the “lowest common denominator”, slowing productivity to the slowest member in the group. Instead, you should be developing ways of raising everyone up to their highest capabilities.

Whether you are a manager or a high-tech staffer, working for others or working for yourself, you need to maintain the highest levels of personal accountability to succeed. Sure, circumstances change, life intervenes, others don’t live up to their commitments, but you need to try, at all costs, to achieve the highest levels of personal accountability and then hold those around you to the same, tough, standards. Without this, you could find your high-tech career mired in mediocrity.

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