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Accountability is a personal guarantee; a personal commitment to a proposed result. It links your organization together, enabling it to move forward as one unit by ensuring the commitment of each individual to the goals of their positions as well as the goals of your business. When people accept accountability for their work, they are rising to the challenge of doing a great job. When they don't, they're simply going through the motions.

Be careful to treat this process with the greatest of respect. In order to gain the full cooperation of your people, they must have a clear understanding of the true value of their work. People want to feel that they are part of something worthwhile.

They need to feel a connection with the Corporate Foundation (Vision, Mission and Values) and understand the strategic reasons for their work, their work affects the progress of the entire organization.

You can’t make this work if you simply dictate to people. They’ll get their backs up and resist. But if you make an agreement with them, people will rise to the challenge. Yes, it's your business and yes, you will always have the final say, but how you say something is often more important than what you say.

It won’t always be this smooth. Some people may not want to be challenged no matter how you approach them. If this is the case, then it may be time for parting ways. It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s always better to know sooner than later. In the long run, it’s better for everyone concerned if you’re all going in the same direction.

100% Accountability / Zero Excuses

100% Accountability / zero excuses is a cultural paradigm that stresses individuals take ownership of the results (good or bad) that they have allowed to be created. Leaders are accountable for the consequences of their own, as well as their team’s actions (and inactions). Instead of saying, “Bob in marketing never got back to me on time with his report” or, “Jane didn’t answer my email on that subject,” we look at what we could have done to ensure project tasks were completed. Both of the above excuses shift the blame on others. What we really mean is something more like, “I never followed up with Bob” or, “I allowed a culture of carelessness to make it OK for Jane to ignore my email.”

When outcomes are important enough to us, we find a way to get the job done. You rarely hear, “I didn’t go to lunch today because Jane didn’t answer my email.” Eating is important enough that you will do the follow-up necessary to make sure it happens. 100% Accountability means every individual in an organization owns the outcomes of their activities. You never say, “That’s not my job description.” You never say, “I’d have been on time if it wasn’t for the traffic.” You never say, “This would be a great company if the CEO would just do his job.” 100% of the people take responsibility 100% of the time for their own success and for the success of the company. There's never an excuse to not give your absolute best.

That sounds amazing, but how does it work?

To utilize 100% personal accountability, it's vital to circle back to breakdowns and discuss what can be learned, not who is at fault.

When it comes to accountability, you have 100% ownership for your results, good or bad, without fault, blame or guilt whether you have control over others, or not. Answering for your results with this mindset is being a leader regardless of your position in an organization. 

no excuses typewriter

Steps to Accountability

Take a moment to think about who the real leaders are within your organization. When you're ready to roll out 100% Accountability, it will be easiest if you can get them to lead it. Choose key influential employees, the ones who are natural leaders, committed to your company, and its culture. They will have to lead by example.

It's easy to talk about accountability, but it has got to be more than talk if it's going to establish firm roots in your company. Remember this simple equation: Talk – Action = 0. One word that transforms accountability is “personal.” Read the following two sentences. Which one feels like it has true meaning?

“Is the CEO accountable for that?”

“Is the CEO personally accountable for that?”

In fact, the less we act on our own personal accountability, owning our consequences even before we know how things are going to turn out, the more rules, regulations and policies must be written and actively enforced to get the accountability that exists in individuals and organizations. If you want a company with a strong, unified culture, a culture where everyone collectively pulls on the oars, you need a culture of 100% Accountability. No amount of rules will take its place.

You can’t force personal accountability, you have to model it.

Value (and learning) is often hidden inside struggle and challenge. If we allow our managers to step in and take over for our employees, and don’t give employees the opportunity to learn from their challenges, we rob them and our company of an opportunity for growth. The skill that management needs to build is watching and asking, not rescuing, fixing and saving.

  1. Recognize your leaders.
  2. Model accountability.
  3. Own your own consequences.

Benefits of 100% Accountability

Without personal accountability, Leadership is a bankrupt concept. 100% Accountability needs to be something that applies to everyone in an organization, across the board.

When your star performers have to take on the work of your lesser performers, no amount of pay raises or bonuses are likely to retain them. This is because the raises and bonuses are not for doing their work, they're for doing the work others are not doing.

By not holding poor performers accountable, your managers are hurting your company, your star performers and, interestingly, your poor performers. Your high performers may be looking for an opportunity in which the rewards are for their own work, not the work of others.

By enabling poor performance, your people are not growing and developing. They are not expected to keep up and stay prepared for changes and new skill requirements because someone has always taken care of them. That's not helping them or your company. Coach your poor performers to bring them up, or move them out of your organization. Whatever you do, don't allow them to remain where they are. 100% Accountability sees every failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Your managers need to be using the failures of poor performers as an opportunity to expand their capabilities. When everyone within an organization adopts the concept of personal accountability, there's less blame placed on others and more focus on moving forward to achieve the organization's goals.

Most people on all levels simply want to be held accountable, with clear and concise direction. This makes it possible to focus on goals, not on obstacles. When it becomes more culturally taboo not to report a problem, mistake, or breakdown, your company and your people experience opportunities for growth, they get better at their jobs, and they are more satisfied.

Performance Objectives

As discussed in the previous chapter, the accountabilities associated with each position in your company are defined as Performance Objectives. They answer the question, "Why does this position exist?" What is its purpose? What results are you looking for from this position?

Performance Objectives hold your employees accountable for their work and set the standards against which their work will be measured. Employees are invited to take on the challenge of achieving, or perhaps even exceeding those goals. That's a good deal more intriguing than simply being hired to do a job. It's important to remember that if Performance Objectives are to be effective, they must be fully accepted by the employee occupying the position. If they are seen as just another form of control, they will cause more problems than they solve.