Are you often frustrated that people reporting to you, or key peers, seem to dodge accountability for their actions? They are quick to claim credit for things in their domain that work, but also quick to disclaim responsibility for problems that keep popping up.
Perhaps you need to do more to be a role model for accountability, and provide more coaching on exactly what it means.
For example, a couple of years ago, Starbucks' chief executive officer, Kevin R. Johnson, was quick to accept accountability via a company apology on Twitter for a racial profiling incident at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, even though he could have claimed that a field employee was at fault. He later closed more than 8,000 of his stores for a day to provide employee racial-bias training.
I often think of the scope of this example in my role as mentor to a struggling entrepreneur who is quick to blame his problems on employee mistakes, or even changing customer expectations. I would ask each of you to audit your own actions in business to make sure you always practice what you preach.
In my experience, here are the key actions that will role-model accountability:
1. Proactively take ownership of a relevant issue.
It's hard to find accountability in a culture where everyone waits to be "assigned" a task. You as a leader need to set the expectation that responsible people are anxious and willing to make a difference by recognizing what needs to be done, stepping up to the task, and later being rewarded.
In today's world, every organization needs to be in a constant state of change to stay competitive. You are in the best position to take the initiative to address growth, emerging technologies, and changing customer needs. Don't wait for a crisis to test accountability.
2. Communicate effectively what needs to be done.
Accountability starts with sharing your ideas and expectations with everyone involved, rather than just assuming that others will see things the same way, and understand the big picture, as well as the details. Communication must be positive and consistent, both up and down the line.
In the Starbucks example mentioned earlier, Kevin Johnson sent a clear message, externally on social media, and internally via memo to all employees, on what he expected, and he provided the time and training so that everyone accepted the message.
3. Take a positive and active role in the execution.
Of course, talking and giving orders is no substitute for doing. True leaders model accountability by taking an active role and adding value, rather than just driving others and assigning blame. They provide ongoing motivation by recognizing and rewarding effort, and the training to do the job right.
No one has ever accused Elon Musk of not leading the way in execution and accountability, given his reputation for working 100-hour weeks, and his famous testament to accountability with the no-hedge statement, "I deliver in full, or I get nothing."
4. Track and communicate progress along the way.
If you want to be perceived as accountable, it is important that key people, including stakeholders within the project and outside, know the status and the final disposition of your effort. If a project is off schedule, the right people need to know, with recovery plans and additional resources required.
In too many companies I know, various teams work on projects throughout the year, and no one measures anything. Everyone waits until the P&L comes out at the end of the quarter and then can't figure out why growth didn't materialize. There is no accountability.
5. Follow up with credit to others and lessons learned.
Accountability is not all about me, myself, and I. The reality of human nature is that the more credit you give to others on the team, the better you will be remembered as accountable in return. Don't forget to document lessons learned, so that others who follow in your footsteps will benefit.
Holding people accountable should never amount to punishment. What you must build is a company culture where accountability is celebrated and plays a crucial role in moving the team, and the company as a whole, forward by learning and working effectively.
Thus you can see that accountability doesn't happen by default, and it can't be accomplished by edict. It is best taught by example, by individuals and leaders within teams who practice the strategies outlined here.
If you are frustrated by the lack of accountability in your organization, it probably means you need to look harder at the model you project, and the mindset of your team.