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One of the big buzz words du jour is accountability. Accountability is certainly a powerful word and when the underlying concept is actually internalized by individuals and becomes a value that a team or an organization respects and honors the impact can be profound. The issue is that when we read about accountability or experience it in the workplace first hand the starting point is typically misplaced. In order to hold yourself and others accountable for a task, a project, a deliverable or a business unit you need to start with some behaviors which are an input not the goals or objective which are outcomes.
We tend to have no issue (usually) holding someone accountable for missing a deadline or a sales quota but we rarely hold them accountable for a behavior that is either self defeating or one that erodes trust, respect and commitment amongst a team. In many situations we ignore the behaviors that are toxic if the goal was achieved. A win is considered a win regardless of the costs to the team or the organization.
So let’s start with the basics of behavioral accountability, the individual. Do you consistently hold yourself accountable to yourself for your behaviors? Are you aware of the behaviors that you either consistently exhibit or tend to resort to when you’re under pressure? I’m not talking about out of control temper tantrums or things that are clearly in violation of what is acceptable and appropriate. Most organizations will not tolerate such behaviors under any circumstance. I’m talking about things like being passive aggressive, avoiding conflict, hording information, being uncooperative, stubborn or difficult. Things like not being fully engaged in a project because your idea wasn’t the one that the team chose to implement, micro managing or given incomplete or unclear directions, being sarcastic, inflexible and non responsive. Any of these resonate with you?
The first step is to identify a behavior or two that you know you are prone to and you also know does not serve you well. A simple way to do this is to examine a few things that have recently frustrated you and ask yourself what you may have done to contribute to the situation. The next step is to be transparent about what that behavior is and ask your team to help by holding you accountable when you display that behavior. You need to decide how you would prefer they do that, I’ve seen people use some sort of “code word” in real time to alert the offender and I’ve also seen people integrate this into standard meetings when giving status updates. Allowing others to know that you are aware that the behavior is one that is a challenge to you and that you are making an effort to fix it and engaging them in the process will increase your chances of success exponentially. When there is reciprocity mutual success is almost guaranteed.
If you are able to do this with the help of others you have now created an environment that will not only be much more likely to be held accountable to the business results it is tasked with but it will do so in a way that does not leave heavy collateral damage in its wake. Separating what we typical refer to when we discuss accountability from behavioral accountability is not only illogical but is incredibly unproductive. Imagine if your finance group was not only responsible for cash flow projections and paying vendors in a timely manner but also agreed to be less sarcastic? What if your head of marketing cut out the passive aggressive emails or voice mails and executed the campaign flawlessly as well? We don’t need to choose to be results focused at the expense of all else. We can operate on a much higher level and once people experience this first hand they tend not to want to revert to going back.
I’d suggest you start with a minor behavioral issue at first in order to get comfortable with the process. Once you’ve tasted a bit of success you can move on to a more challenging behavior.
I’d like to hear your thoughts and comments and experiences. Let me know what you tried, what worked and what didn’t.