How is the issue of personal accountability viewed in your organization? Seasoned workers have undoubtedly seen their share of finger pointing, dishonesty, and “CYOA.” However, personal accountability is a critical step towards improving leadership. When people are accountable for their own decisions, work, and results, the effectiveness of an organization can greatly increase.
One of the greatest issues in accountability stems from the amount of control people actually possess in their work. When employees are in control of the what, when, and how of a decision, their accountability is sky high. On the other hand, when others are in control of how work gets done, accountability significantly decreases. Studies on control and influence in autocratic, democratic, and laissez faire organizations show that the most effective organizations have teams where everyone feels they have influence. When people feel like their voice is heard, their investment in their work increases far more than when they’re being told what to do and exactly how to do it.
The second issue we researched was the way leadership behaviors could promote a greater sense of accountability in others. Intuitively, leaders might think that demanding accountability, letting others make the decisions, or giving pep talks would make the difference. However, our experience is that none of these tactics work very well and all are suboptimal choices. Instead, we looked at 360-degree assessments from 40,000 leaders and examined leaders who scored in the 90th percentile on effectiveness for accountability. When I looked at these exceptional leaders’ behaviors I found eight that were linked to high personal accountability. They are as follows:
- Drive for Results. Sometimes in organizations it is really hard to focus. When we are sending multiple messages about what is critical and what others are accountable for, accountability dissipates. If you want people to be responsible, then you must clearly define the results that you want them to deliver, and let them have a fair amount of control on how they deliver those results.
- Honesty and Integrity. When your boss asks in a company meeting, “how’s that project coming?” do you honestly reply, “we are really behind” or “pretty good?” Those who are accountable have the courage to tell the truth. This courage is often reinforced because people see their managers being open and direct with them.
- Trust. We did some research on a set of leaders who were not trusted and found their employees had the following issues:
I am not confident that my efforts will be rewarded I suspect the leader may take advantage of me
I constantly question the leader’s motives
I am sure they will take credit for my accomplishments
These are not factors that will build accountability. In contrast, the three pillars that build trust are positive relationships, knowledge, and consistency of leaders.
- Clear Vision and Direction. There is an old Chinese proverb that explains this issue well: “The hunter that chases two rabbits catches neither one.” In organizations, people are often chasing multiple rabbits and they don’t catch any of them. How can you expect people to be accountable if they aren’t absolutely clear about the organization’s vision for where they’re going and what needs to be accomplished? Clearly, you can’t.
- Problem Solving and Technical Expertise. It is impossible to feel accountable when a person is confused and doesn’t know how things work. Teach your people the skills and give them the training they need, and make absolutely sure they know how to do the job you expect.
- Communication. When a leader can effectively communicate, others can understand what they are accountable for. This requires being able to tell, ask, and listen to others.
- Ability to Change. We found that people who are really good at creating change in an organization had employees who are operating at higher levels of accountability. Leaders who are good at instituting change are effective at the following behaviors: accepting feedback, taking on challenges, innovating, spreading optimism, showing concern, and setting clear goals.
- Collaboration and Resolving Conflict. Collaboration is a difficult skill to achieve in an organization. Are you cooperating or competing with others in your group? Peter Blow at Columbia University did a series of studies on this issue that showed that teams who collaborate and are cooperative are far more successful than those who compete. Cooperation breeds accountability.
On the long personal and organizational “to do” list, accountability should be at the top of the list. If you see a fatal flaw in yourself or your current leaders on any of these eight points, you should address it immediately. In fact, the single greatest way to leverage accountability is to pick a few of these key behaviors to work on yourself. Why? The research is clear on this issue: great accountability in the organization begins with you.