For too many people in the corporate world, “accountability” is a loaded word: loaded, that is, with negative baggage. It conjures up images of bosses who speak sternly to those of lower rank, holding some shortcoming over their heads. For this reason, the thought of “accountability” makes many people cringe.
This, however, is not a true representation of accountability. Real accountability energizes rather than discourages because it is nothing more nor less than taking responsibility for your own work. Put that way, everybody within an organization is required to practice accountability, from the CEO to the summer intern.
In an organization that upholds the value of accountability, each person – no matter what position they hold – understands what they are responsible for, takes those responsibilities seriously, and does everything they can to deliver on those responsibilities. A responsibility may be something as large as getting a massive project done on time, or as small as reviewing a report. And, if a responsibility cannot be delivered as expected, accountability means communicating that fact clearly along with what steps will be taken to resolve the matter.
Consider this real-world example. A company with 150 employees is run by a father and his sons. The father – the owner and founder of the company – makes a commitment to take on the project leadership for getting a new production line up and running at the manufacturing plant. He systematically oversees the purchase of equipment, its installation, the testing, and all the other aspects involved in the new production line. He lives and breathes it every single day for months. He never “takes advantage” of his position as owner and founder to push his responsibilities onto his sons or anyone else in the company.
Because the father approaches the project with a high degree of personal accountability, every employee within the organization understands the importance of the new production line. They are very responsive when he communicates various ways that people can help get the new line up and running. And, because the employees see the owner and founder treating his responsibilities seriously, they approach their own responsibilities with that same level of commitment, reinforcing a culture of positive accountability across the organization.
As this example graphically demonstrates, it is past time to ditch the baggage associated with accountability. Accountability should characterize our companies and serve as a foundational value within our business culture. When we understand and approach it correctly, accountability will infuse people with energy and drive business outcomes to new levels of success.