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Accountability: It Has To Be Personal

As part of a recognition program for a group of high school students who had completed a year-long program sponsored by a previous employer, I ordered hors d’oeuvres and punch from the catering department. “Graduation” was always special and had become a tradition with parents and community partners attending. When the catering department began setting up, a large orange construction cooler full of punch was set on the table. I looked at the attendant and asked what was going on and she replied, “This is what the manager gave me”. My face must have shown my surprise so she continued, “I know it’s not what you usually get or what you want, but it’s what the manager sent.”

What went wrong? This is an example where the employee did not take responsibility for their actions or agree to work towards a solution. Knowing the situation was not correct, she simply passed the responsibility to someone else, in this case, her manager. In most situations, these actions or lack thereof become career limiting. Personal accountability is your willingness to take responsibility and own the results of your actions regardless of the outcome. It is much easier to take responsibility when the outcomes are good, however, taking responsibility regardless of the outcome demonstrates integrity and leadership.

Are you being personally accountable and giving your best to help resolve issues or challenges? Think back over the past 30 days, have there been instances where you blamed someone else for a situation instead of trying to correct it? Have you written an email and copied multiple people to cover yourself? Have you asked who is responsible for a situation instead of how do we fix this? Have you directed a client to another resource because what they needed “wasn’t your job”? Behaviors that demonstrate lack of accountability include blaming others, ignoring or denying there is an issue or that you have any role in the situation, or simply viewing it as “not your job”. Unfortunately, when we look hard at ourselves, we may discover that we are not as personally accountable as we think. Our lack of accountability can reduce our control and impact our feelings of self-worth.

To improve organizational accountability, it begins with you. Personal accountability is a choice and often requires a change in mindset. Accountable people have an internal locus of control, that is, they believe outcomes are influenced by their actions, skills, and even their mistakes. Accountable people take ownership of their actions and their work. The authors of The Oz Principle narrow it down to four basic steps: see it, own it, solve it, and do it. Notice that while it is simple, it is action-oriented towards a solution.

If it is that simple, why don’t more people demonstrate personal accountability? There are many reasons. First, consider how we are trained. Think back to what you learned growing up. Before you left the house, were you taught to be personally accountable, or did you act mainly due to the motivation or perhaps punishment of your parents (external locus of control)? In school, were held accountable by the teacher? Again, external locus of control. You did the work or your grade suffered. Now, you are at work. Who holds you accountable? Is it your boss, your peers, or yourself? Having been a parent, a teacher, and a manager, I’m not knocking the system and I recognize there are exceptions to these general statements. What I am suggesting is at some point, you have to take accountability to the next level and become motivated internally and believe you are responsible for the outcomes regardless of the perceived benefits or punishment of your manager. Having a mindset of focusing on what you can do to enhance outcomes and move the situation forward can improve your performance, build trust with others, and lead to a happier life.

Here are a few strategies to enhance your accountability.

First, recognize your behavior. Why do you choose to do some things while ignoring others? Is it based on your perception of what you will gain personally or your willingness to do the right thing regardless? Do you look for solutions or do you look for someone to blame? Identify areas where you can become more accountable.

Understand the expectations. When you accept an assignment or task, ask for clarification. Often tasks are not completed successfully simply because the outcome was unclear. Take responsibility to clarify the expectations and own the results.

Continue to move the task forward. Even in the face of roadblocks, the task needs to move forward or you need to renegotiate outcomes. If you encounter barriers, don’t give up. Seek out help and keep others informed as to the barriers, plans to move the project forward, and progress.

Find an accountability partner. Talking with someone and sharing your accountability expectations can help you build healthy habits.

Own the results. If the results are good, that’s rewarding! If the results weren’t exactly what you had hoped, learn from them, adjust, and move forward.

Mastering personal accountability will enhance your professional reputation, result in better outcomes, and provide you with a greater sense of value. It is not about blaming or complaining, rather, it is about taking ownership and action. Once you are known as an accountable person, trust builds and relationships improve.

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