Creating Accountability - In Yourself and Your Team

May 4, 2010

When we talk about showing leadership in the workplace environment, we also must speak of having accountability. While it is often thought that being accountable only means taking responsibility if something doesn't go well, there is a much deeper meaning behind it in truth.

Being accountable would better be described as having ownership in the work that you do. It means having the highest level of commitment to provide the absolute best you have to offer. If you just show up every day and do what you are told to do, no more, no less, or, if you have people on your team who do this, you most likely have a lack of accountability.

Why is it so important? Today's top leaders are searching for environments where people are held accountable for their work. Have you ever been on a team where people who do well aren't recognized, and the people who don't do their job (generally causing others to pick up the slack) are reprimanded? If you have, I bet you know all too well the frustration that comes from that situation. The best leaders will not stay in an environment like this for long; instead, they will seek out a company that does hold everyone accountable. Ask yourself this: If we feel challenged holding others accountable, and our top talent and leaders leave, what are we left with? You are left with those who thrive in a place where no one cares if they do their job well, or not.

How do you go about building up accountability? There are actually several different approaches, depending on your situation in an organization. As a company owner, you can implement programs such as a properly laid out profit sharing plan, or even company ownership in shares. Have you ever seen a WestJet commercial? Their tagline is "Why do WestJetters care so much? Because we're also WestJet owners". In order to create accountability in the company, they gave their employees shares in the company. That team knows that how they treat the customers, how efficient they are, how polite they are, and how many repeat customers they personally create, directly affects their own personal bottom line.

Understandably, you may not be in a position to do this with your team. Remember though, as a leader, accountability begins with you. You personally need to be holding yourself accountable for the work you do, before you can lead others into doing the same. Can your manager count on you completely? If you do make a mistake, or won't be able to meet a deadline, are you honest with yourself, and with your managers? Do you take responsibility, and help create a solution? Do you go above and beyond your job requirements when you can - including correcting a problem that you didn't cause but know how to fix, helping others on your team when you can, while at the same time making sure your deadlines are met?

Once you know that you are holding yourself accountable, you can move on to helping your team be more accountable as well.

The first step is to create some passion and ownership of what the team is doing. Meet with them and have discussions to talk about why what they do is important, and let them see the bigger picture. Show them how their piece of the puzzle affects everyone else. If applicable, create a team mission statement together to keep this in the forefront.

Next, make sure the goals for the team are clearly defined, and performance standards are in place. Encourage your team to approach you if they are struggling with a task.

In meetings, create an "action list", showing which actions need to be done, when they need to be done by, and who is responsible for making it happen. When the meeting is done, make a copy for everyone - this gives you exactly the tasks that you need to follow up on between now and the next meeting. Let the team do its work, but touch base now and then on each task to make sure it is on track for completion.

Remember to always be recognizing and rewarding your team. Show them gratitude when they do something right, even just by saying a simple thank you.

Accountability, when it is created, can make an organization grow and thrive. On an individual basis, it can also make the leaders in the group stand out from the rest, which in some cases can lead to career advancement in the future. As a leader you need to not only show others that they are accountable, but always take time to remember that it begins with the person you see in the mirror.

For more ideas on leadership, please contact Gary Gzik at ggzik@bizxcel.com.