In your mind, think about your typical responses when you’re driving a rental car. You grab the keys and head out of the rental lot, and hit the road, whether for business or pleasure. A little sand on the floor from that stop at the beach? A tiny ding in the door from the car next to you in the parking lot? A little rough on an unfamiliar transmission? Eh, nothing major, and besides, the car is going back in a day or two.
And then there’s your own car.
Maybe you park in the far corner of lot to avoid scratches. Perhaps you are precise with routine maintenance checks. Do you wash your car and vacuum it regularly, so it looks it’s best? It’s your car, and you are responsible for how it runs, looks, and lasts.
There’s a difference between renting and owning.
And the same goes for your job. Do you ‘rent’ your job, or do you ‘own’ it?
Which type of behaviors resonate with how you treat your role and responsibilities at work? These behaviors reflect the mindset you hold toward personal accountability. When we ‘own’ our jobs, we understand that we are responsible to ourselves and others for the outcomes assigned to our position. We work towards solving problems and taken actions in order to achieve what is necessary to be successful. We accept that failing to meet goals and expectations not only lets ourselves down, but also our team – those counting on us to deliver so they can succeed in their goals as well.
Personal accountability precedes organizational accountability. “When people – particularly leaders – hold themselves accountable, it encourages others to do the same.” Says Stephen M. R. Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust. Accountability, in fact, is more often a leadership issue rather than a ‘worker’ issue. The majority of the time, employees aspire to do a good job and be successful in their roles. Leadership needs to recognize and match this mindset and use healthy relationships as the ultimate tool for influencing the performance of others. Instead of mandating compliance, teaching and modeling personal and corporate discipline is much more effective.
It must also be acknowledged that the lack of accountability, in leadership or elsewhere, has a distinctly negative effect of creating a culture of trust. When people are not held accountable, is lowers morale, devalues employees, and decreases productivity. Without trust, an organization cannot be healthy.
Trust is increased when clear expectations are established from the outset. Creating an environment where everyone understands what is needed, when it is due, and who is responsible for each element allows greater likelihood for success. Lack of clarity leads to uncertainty, disappointment, and poor results. Clarity is also increased when periodic evaluation points are established along the way. “Deadlines are when things are due. Timelines are when things get done.”
Building a culture based on accountability – personal and organizational – is the way to develop deeper relationships and a healthier team. It’s not only a question of what happens when someone fails, but more importantly, what happens when they succeed? Are wins celebrated as frequently as failures are questioned? Do peers feel safe enough to ask hard questions of each other? Do they trust each other enough to seek support from each other and know when to ask for help? Developing this level of interdependence and safety is the strongest way to ensure a culture of accountability that will last.
Here is a summary of steps to build your culture of accountability:
- ‘Own’ your role
- Hold yourself accountable first
- Establish clear expectations
- Set specific check-in points before the deadline
- Celebrate the wins
- Acknowledge the ‘misses’ and turn them into learning opportunities
- Allow people to ask hard questions of you – in fact, demand it
- Expect others to ask hard questions of each other