Accountability means answering or accounting for your actions and results. It is something every leader wants more of from his team. Accountability is like rain--everyone knows they need it, but no one wants to get wet. It's easy to talk about how "they" need to be more accountable, but it can be uncomfortable when we apply it to ourselves. When is the last time you heard someone say, "I really need to be more accountable for my results?" It doesn't happen very often. Yet we get more accountability from our teams by being accountable to them. It's a two-way street.

To simplify the challenges with this word, try this equation: Accountability = Reliability. Reliable results and reliable relationships are the payoff for building an accountable team culture.

Take a moment now to reflect on the performance of each team member. Think of the lowest-performing team member. By default, that person's level of performance sets the standard for acceptable performance on your team--it's the performance level that you as the leader allow. It's a very public and visible standard regardless of how much we might want to sweep it under the rug or turn a blind eye to it.

Ambiguity is the Achilles' heel of accountability, but specificity enables you to raise the standards of your team's performance.

At its core, accountability is really about specificity--specific expectations, specific consequences, specific language and specific coaching. When specificity increases, miscommunication, frustration and rework decrease.

So, the gears of your accountability engine are expectations, consequences, language and coaching. The oil that enables these gears to run rapidly and smoothly is specificity.

You can ignite your team's accountability with SPECIFIC:

  1. Expectations
  2. Consequences
  3. Language
  4. Coaching

Accountability starts at the beginning of the performance process. If we wait until the end, then we are simply imposing consequences rather than creating ownership. Therefore, crystal-clear expectations are the foundation for boosting accountability. Blurry expectations lead to blurry results. Leaders and team members should be able to easily agree on the answer to this question: "How will I know if I have met expectations?" We cannot rely on others' perceptions of our expectations. The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. Winning teams hold themselves accountable for measurable improvements and for hitting milestones. To do this, accountable leaders help their teams by communicating the 4 W's:

  • What: What action needs to be taken?
  • Why: Link this action to the bigger picture so the person understand why they are important.
  • Who: No two-headed monsters here. Only one person can be accountable per action.
  • When: Be specific about when you want results-- "next month" or "by second quarter" is not specific enough.

Next up, specific consequences. Stay tuned.

Read FREE sample pages of Stick with It: Mastering the Art of Adherence to help ignite your team's accountability.