In a collaborative culture accountability is a visible practice and framework. All team members are clear about their specific responsibilities. They are aware of the organization’s mission, vision, values, and how they personally fit into the framework. They are given measures and tools to use in determining if they are moving forward or falling behind on their objectives. They are empowered to do their job, and they are rewarded for their efforts. The result is a high level of employee engagement with a vested interest in the success of the organization.
Accountability is indispensable in collaboration because the work is interrelated. For example, if one team member makes an error or falls behind schedule, he must report it to the rest of the team to stem the consequences; failure to disclose a problem in one part could potentially damage the entire work. In addition, taking responsibility for errors is easier in a collaborative setting, where the focus is on correction rather than on blame. Thus, fear of retribution is minimal, if it even exists, allowing a more honest exchange among team members.
In a traditional culture with command and control leadership, although management demands and praises the value of accountability, it does not generally provide the resources and environment that enable accountability to flourish. This absence often results in widespread confusion, distrust, and underachievement. Influential leaders are aware of these pit falls and thus behave, and urge others to behave, in a manner that promotes accountability.
Influential leaders lead by modeling effective behaviour. They understand that it is through their own personal behaviour competency that they influence others. They are role models of accountability. They understand that accountability is the obligation to take personal responsibility for ones thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions. They understand that accountability is an empowering mental model that puts the person in total control of their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions. This mental model (what Corporate Harmony refers to as the skill of Positive Presence) is necessary in today’s workplace wrought with complexity, ambiguity, and with fast paced and constant change. This mental model is a requirement for every member of the organization, regardless of title, rank, or employment relationship.
Role-modeling accountability is not difficult, but it does take practice. Here are three ‘lights’ of accountability to practice:
Transparency. One way to role-model accountability is transparency. Influential leaders admit their own mistakes and vulnerabilities in the face of responsibility. For example, the leader can share a story in which he “dropped the ball” on an important project. He can explain the steps he took to recover from this event. The story can then be turned into a teaching moment that may inspire others to change their approach to avoid the negative outcome experienced by the storyteller. The point of this exercise (called power of story), is to show that a lack of accountability has the power to weaken even a strong performer and thus needs to be managed with vigilance.
Ask. Another way leaders can role-model accountability is to always, in any challenging situation or conflict, ask “how did I contribute to this problem?” This simple question must be followed by an actual evaluation of the leader’s role, because just posing the question is as good as screaming, “I didn’t do it!” This show of genuine concern indicates to others that the leader sees herself as accountable not only for the problem but also for the solution.
Move Forward. While accountability is effective in establishing behaviour based expectations for performance, the key is to remain focused on improved and effective behaviour change. Repeating ineffective behaviour through feedback ultimately creates a great deal of damage to any relationship. Acknowledging a mechanism that identifies an effective behaviour as a more productive choice is the key to move out of the past and focus forward.
Today’s organizations should include an accountability criterion in all policies and processes, including employee recruitment and retention, privileging and credentialing, all performance appraisals, contract development and review, and vendor selection. When accountability is a clearly documented and well-communicated expectation, every person who works for and conducts business in the organization is more likely to demonstrate effective behaviour. The person will perform according to established or agreed upon standards and will think twice about assigning blame. Without the use of accountability and feedback you will be leading in the dark.