Most people do not get excited about accountability.
When you see “accountability” listed as one of a company’s core values, what is your first reaction?
Accountability does not tug at the heartstrings or inspire bold action and innovation. Instead, accountability often sounds like a burden and a need for control. But alas, when positioned correctly, accountability is the master key that unlocks a more dynamic work, and appropriate risk-taking, and ultimately leads to greater freedom in the workplace.
Floating frustration and anxiety
It can be frustrating to wait on someone else to finish their part of a process or to request an update, only to learn that a colleague has not started the work yet or has been spending time working on the wrong information, or that they thought someone else was handling that part of the work. Moments like these lead to a new set of stories that we tell ourselves about why the other person is deliberately failing to meet our expectations and willfully making our jobs more difficult.
This constant style of disappointment plagues most of our workplaces and hurts our organizational cultures but there is a simple antidote – create clear accountability. The one thing we can do to make immediate improvements is to always state who does what by when.
Who does what by when?
Is something so simple the key to freedom? In a word, yes.
Space is created for progress, speed, and innovation when clear ownership is established, an agreement is reached on the steps to be taken, and the expectation of exactly when an action will be completed come together. But let’s be clear by being clear. An owner is a person not “we” or “they.” And the owner is not going to just “research” or “think about” a problem; rather, the owner must take steps that result in an output. And, most importantly, others will know when to expect that outcome using specific dates, times, and even time zones.
Pro-tip: “Close of business” is not a specific time and it certainly does not translate well across time zones either.
When all are accountable and the language used throughout an organization creates clarity and trust in the work, then every team member is free to pursue their objectives within the stated timeframe and trust that others are doing the same. An air of freedom and responsibility can correct the previous feelings of concern and ambiguity. Because we all want to feel trusted and respected, accountability should be a part of your organization’s lexicon.
Take an inventory of the language in your organization
Does your team create clear ownership when talking about what must be done next? Does the owner identify the steps they are going to take and seek agreement on the desired output(s)? Does everyone know when the work will be complete and what to expect? Are these questions accurately documented and stored or shared for easy reference after the meeting?
At 5, we have a solid focus on accountability and language and yet we still identify areas that need improvement daily. Creating a culture of accountability does not happen overnight but you can make progress by first recognizing the need and the benefits of accountability and then being intentional about every meeting and communication thereafter.