Accountability. It is kind of a big word, long, and intangible. It’s easier to talk about being accountable, rather than to evaluate or determine it. But accountability is not just a character trait or a behavioral pattern, it can also serve as a personal standard. Practicing this means holding yourself and others accountable for their actions, decisions, and behavior.

It is important to understand that your success with accountability is entirely up to you. Whether you’re working within a team or you are dealing with unforeseen circumstances, the way you respond and work with others reflects the goals and values of yourself and your business. Manage accountability with the goal of owning your commitment to a result before you even take action!

So, what does it mean to be accountable?

Unlike responsibility, personal accountability is the willingness to answer for the outcomes of your choices. In being accountable, you step up when you’ve made bad decisions and do not assign blame or make excuses. Instead, you own it when your actions fall short of expected outcomes. Part of holding yourself accountable is using these situations to propel yourself forward to action and solutions.

Accountable behavior is a lot easier when things go well, but harder to do when things don’t go so well. It’s helpful to deal with what is. It doesn’t matter what should have happened—it matters what is; that saves you the trouble of figuring out who to blame or what to worry over next. Always remind yourself: “How do I want to respond to what is happening right now?

3 maxims of personal accountability:

(1) Tell the truth. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. Lying about it, trying to cover it up, or blaming others always makes it worse—there are very few exceptions.

(2) Look to yourself first. When trouble arises, ask yourself 4 questions:

(A) “What is the problem?”

(B) “What am I doing—or not doing—to contribute to the problem?” ; and more importantly,

(C) “What will I do differently to help solve the problem?” ; lastly,

(D) “How will I be accountable for the result?”

(3) Police yourself. You are supposed to be accountable for your actions, even if no one holds you accountable for them. A big part of this is to be your own “accountability partner” and manage yourself.accountability_chickens-300x2931

What does it mean to hold others accountable?

In the fast-paced business world of today, more and more of us are expected to perform a variety of tasks, work in many different roles, and constantly think ‘outside of the box.’ Often as a result, questions of accountability have to be  addressed.  Be clear about expectations, not only what you expect, but also what is expected of you. To do this, you need to be asking questions, making agreements, and clarifying expectations as many times as needed.

As a manager or business leader, it is important to hold people accountable for their bad behavior or bad decision-making in order to establish what the real problem is and how to quickly move on to solutions. Consider it your responsibility to set yourself and your employees up for success in practicing accountability. By defining your expectations from the get-go, it is easier to hold others accountable for the results. Encouraging this kind of behavior among management and employees allows for a more dynamic, receptive work environment.

3 maxims of professional accountability:

(1) Clearly Set Expectations. It is often assumed that employees just know what is expected of them, so be sure to communicate deadlines and details. The more clearly you set expectations and goals at the beginning, the less time you will waste later on clarifying them.

(2) Evaluate Progress. You need information to hold others accountable. Measure and compare ongoing performance in order to gauge where there are expectations that are not being met. Goals are only measurable when they are quantified. If there is some struggling to reach goals, help by administering appropriate consequences and coaching to guide and focus behavior.

(3) Give Feedback. Share the information you gather with those you work with. Feedback alone doesn’t solve problems, but it does encourage problem-solving as well as follow-up actions. Employees need feedback, especially to improve their own accountability behaviors. Most of the time, giving objective feedback is all that is needed.

accountability-ladder-234x300Accountability is not just something you do—it’s a pattern of behavior. Recognize your power over that. You already have the ability to be 100% accountable; everybody does. It is important to realize that you have the power to manage your life and career on your own.

By empowering yourself and those you work with, you take the actions (and the risks) necessary to achieve a result you want and have committed to reaching. Part of practicing accountable behavior is not waiting for someone to tell you you’re ‘empowered,’ or give you a break – make things happen – always being ready to answer for the outcomes.

View accountability as a skill-set to work with and improve upon in order to be successful and to have an impact. Accountability is behavior that requires commitment. Choose to own your success and your challenges at work and in life.

Recommended Resources:

  • Crucial Accountability (Buy the Book here) by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler. May 2013
  • The 3A’s of Accountability (Watch the Video here) Rich Harwood (Founder/President of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation) discusses what it means to be accountable as a leader.