Most of us grew up in a system that called us out to be responsible. As kids we were responsible for taking out the garbage or putting our toys away in the toy bin. We lived in a check the box world. Here's what you need to do and now, get it done and check it off the list.

Our parents, however, were accountable. They needed to decide what makes up a happy family, and how to keep the house clean was merely one variable of a larger vision.

In school we were responsible for getting our homework done on time or making sure we were in our seats ready to take a test. We studied and did what we were told to do. We were being trained to be responsible. That's a good thing.

Our teachers, however, were accountable. Their job was to help us learn to decipher the alphabet, make words into sentences or understand the reasons why algebra was important in our lives. This means having a vision of what education is really about and how to keep that vision fresh.

Responsibility is a check the box mind-set.

Accountability is a consequence mind-set.

There is a world of difference between the two ways of thinking.

I recently had a great conversation with Bart Lorang, CEO of Full Contact. You may remember him from an earlier post where we talked about his great idea (at least I thought so) of giving his employees an extra $7500 for a vacation as long as they promised to turn off and tune in (my words). That means no work, no technology, no social media, no anything! Just vacate.

It seems to work and his company is in demand. Heck, who wouldn't want to work in a place that really encourages us to be human beings, not just human doings.

This time Bart and I talked about the major difference between responsibility and accountability. He is holding the vision for a company based on accountability.

"Let's take the janitor" he said as he led me into the accountability discussion. He has the responsibility to keep the floors clean and the waste baskets emptied. That's a good and respectable job."

"Now the site manager is accountable for making sure the business setting is comfortable and ready for the staff to do the hard work of thinking and creating."

"When you are accountable, all that matters are results. It's a no excuse world. You just figure out how to get the job done and then get it done. You delegate, you do it yourself, you call in ideas, you do what you have to do. It may take a few minutes or it may take 24-7 for weeks. That is not the point. The point is the buck, as they say, stops here."

We kept up the dialogue talking about some companies he thinks are doing it right, like Google and Apple and, of course, Full Contact.

Lots of food for thought here.

What do you, as a leader, need to do to create a culture of accountability? Are only leaders meant to be holding the vision while everyone else stays in responsibility mode and does what they are told?

According to Bart, he wants his employees to see the larger picture of what it means to work at Full Contact and do what is needed to be done, whether it takes, two days and the rest of the week is easy sailing or whether it takes two weeks of constant effort.

He believes, and so do I, that check the box responsibility thinking is limiting and that once a whole organization moves into accountability thinking, strategy for success is accelerated, and productivity and creativity can soar.

Published on: Sep 13, 2016
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