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What’s the Real Key to Creating Accountability?

What’s the Real Key to Creating Accountability?

This question comes up a lot. When you start thinking about accountability, what comes to mind?

You have expectations, right? If you run a team or own a business, you want your employees to do the right things, on time, and usually at or under budget. So you set the bar.

Then what? If someone fails to meet the expectation, there are consequences. The overall output suffers which means eventual success falls short. What’s a leader to do? Who should be responsible?

On one hand….

Employers have the right to set standards. Creating a job is built around the need to fulfill some specific action. If the need didn’t exist, there would be no position to fill. The math gets pretty simple.

But there is a need, so we create jobs. Then we recruit to fill those jobs. When we introduce human nature to the situation, well… stuff happens. Bosses may be lousy judges of character and talent, so the wrong people get hired. Or great people get hired but get no training or orientation. Or good people start out strong but find gaps in their own expectations of what the company promised. Disillusionment takes root. And on occasion, everybody gets lucky so things work out well.

Now, most of this sounds negative so far. And that is the very problem with most systems of accountability. Managers set standards, employees get punished when accomplishments don’t measure up. It’s some kind of ritual. Thus the reason everyone (including the managers) moans when the “A” word comes up. Yes, accountability.

But It Doesn’t have to Be This Way

On one of my recent podcasts, I was talking with Jeff Cohen. He’s created a body of work with a book by the same title “Count-on-able;” as in being someone others can count on.

I know that sounds like an old-fashioned idea, but think about it. If you have any bit of self-worth and a moral compass in operating form, you likely want to show up in a way that others will count on you.

Why, when, where, and how do we shake that notion out of people to create this adversarial relationship between being counted on and being punished for falling short?

I’d like to say it starts with management and leadership. I spend much of my day helping business owners and executives become better leaders. But there is a subtle nuance we often overlook. The best champions of business learn how to master both… being a good manager and a great leader.

Management by definition helps us gets things going and get things done. But Leadership reaches into the hearts and minds of those around us to inspire them to action, not by demand, but by influence. When good management happens, productivity happens. When good leadership happens, the people want to be productive and dive deeper into their capacity to make it happen; the extra 10%. See the difference?

Where the Power Lies

Management may rely upon the power of their position to make someone do a task. ‘By the authority vested in me…’ But Leadership doesn’t turn to that power first. Rather they convince the employee that good work is important for the greater good of the team and the company.

It is and should be a two way street. Alisa Cohn, in her book “Start-Up to Grown-Up” talks about the employee-employer relationship as a contract. BOTH parties have things that need to be held up and complied with. Neither party should let down on the expectations that are communicated.

If I am the employer, my end of the deal includes things like providing reasonably safe working conditions, proper supplies and resources to execute the work, and a fare wage for the work delivered. The employee’s end includes showing up on schedule, working throughout the assigned period, and delivering on the tasks, goods, or services I am hired to doeliver.

What is your definition of accountabilty? Can you be count-on-able? Have you defined the right contract for building the two way street?

If you’d like to explore these ideas, visit my website at DougThorpe.com. Or leave a comment anywhere this post appears on social media. Let’s turn this model around. Accountability should be a happy, productive thing.


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