Being accountable (part 2) Becoming more accountable

In part 1, I talked about accountability and its value to you and your organization. Now, I’d like to talk about what you can do to bring accountability into your group.

First of all, if you are not in charge, you don’t have a lot of leverage to make your team accountable. All you can do is to start acting accountable and hope that it catches-on. Hopefully, your boss can see what you are doing and will reward and assist you instead of firing his one accountable person. Of course, if your boss fires you for being accountable, it might end up being the biggest reward of all. So don’t be discouraged by it. Stand tall and be a person with character. You will get your just desserts.

In contrast, if you are in charge, you have a lot of options to bring-about changes. Roll up your sleeves and dig in.

Detecting the rats
If you are put in charge of a new team and you are not sure where they stand, it helps to separate the men from the boys. The easiest way of detecting the stinkers is to look at who is pointing fingers. The people with experience in dodging responsibility/accountability are the first ones to go for that approach. They are usually very experienced at it. When you see it happen, you will know the deal. Even if you are not in charge, a boss would have to be completely clueless to not recognize this pattern too. Even clueless people can probably recognize it.

If it is not obvious by the end of week 2, on a new team, you can get your answers quickly another way. The surest way of bringing out the rats is to ask your team to demonstrate their own accountability by keeping a journal or doing some other documentation of their work. The guilty parties will get pretty cranky and even whiney. You will hear complains like “don’t you trust me?!” (often with excessive emotion and grandiose acting). It is usually followed by “I don’t see the point in this”, “it will get in the way of me doing my work”, and “how long will we be doing this?” In reality, you don’t need to proceed at all now. Your culprits have revealed themselves. The only reason to proceed is if you believe that some of your suspects are actually innocent, but have been scared to the surface by peer pressure (eg. doing what everyone else does). You can give the tag-alongs a chance to redeem themselves by sticking with the journal for a month or two and see who comes-around and who doubles-up on the whiney or cranky.

In the end, your real rats will try to “game the system” and they will try to become good at it. An occasional spot-check (audit) will easily reveal this. Mostly because, the rats are inherently sloppy/lazy and so, they will be as bad at their deception as they are at the rest of their work. A really great deception is harder-work than honesty.

The reason that accountability is a winning proposition is this: unlike [the blame game], if you make a mistake and own-up-to-it, then you have taken the first step to solving a problem: admitting that there is a problem. Continue with the next step: finding the cause. Finish by resolving the cause or committing to treating the effect. Once you get into that pattern, then if you make a mistake, it is much less significant. Because you have shown that you learn from your mistakes. This means that you are predictably less likely to repeat those mistakes and you are more likely to prevent other future mistakes.

When you think about that, you realize that such a person is really becoming a problem solver (and preventer). That is some really huge value. I’ll take one of those people on my team any day.

Put yourself in your boss’ shoes.

Scenario #1: You have a room full of people pointing fingers. You (the boss) will want it to stop. The easy route is to elect a scapegoat and hope it doesn’t happen again (but you know it will). The harder route is to tell everyone to “grow up” and fix the goshdarn problem or you will punish everyone.

Scenario #2: One person steps up and says “that was me”. Don’t you think you want to spend a little time focusing on that person? That person at least sounds like he/she is willing to learn and improve. If you put some work into that person you will probably get some progress (ROI). Next time there is a problem, that same person is probably more likely to step-up and handle the next problem (because, there was sort-of a reward, instead of punishment for doing-so). In fact, the finger-pointers will become very jealous (maybe even envious) each time [being accountable] results in a reward. Eventually, people start to snatch-up the accountability. It produces a huge turn-around for the overall attitude of the team.

If you are in-charge of a team with a finger-pointing problem, you need to change momentum and solve that problem. Try this strategy: pull one guy aside and make a deal, “If he takes responsibility for the problem, and tries to fix it, you will reward him instead of punishing him”. Then, at the next opportunity (team meeting or equiv), have him/her stand up in front of everyone and say “I’ll take this one. I’d like to fix it. Give me the resources that I need to fix it”. If you honestly try to fix it and honestly give that person the resources to do it, it will create a renaissance. You might need to repeat it once or twice, but it will be like turning on a light switch. You just need to demonstrate the discipline to start this plan and follow-through. Once the team’s momentum has changed, it will run itself.

Being accountable is the most elite thing that you can do. If you ever think about firing an accountable person, please send me their resume before you do. I would love to hire them or share them with some of my favorite business contacts.


About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
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