For many people, any mention of the word accountability strikes fear into their hearts. Parents tell their kids they need to be accountable for their actions. Boards of Directors tell Presidents, who tell Vice Presidents, who tell Regional Directors and so on down the line about how they need to be held accountable to their budgets and the company’s performance. Sales managers tell sales people they will be held accountable for their monthly sales numbers.
With all of this fear of dire consequences, is it any wonder that people from eight to 88 view the word in a negative light? Accountability is used as a hammer to get people to perform “or else.”
For some, one reaction is to look for every excuse NOT to be held accountable. That way, if there’s a problem, they can’t be blamed. These folks strive for anonymity, desperate to fly under the radar. ”I’ll just put in my time and punch out at 5:00 pm. No need to make any waves or take any chances.”
If this sounds like your organization, the few people who do accept responsibility probably end up being responsible for everything. I’ve called or e mailed a manager or salesperson on a number of occasions only to be told “So-and-so is out sick/on vacation/on leave and NO ONE HERE” is able to answer your question”. It’s just another version of the classic, “It’s not my job.”
What these and many other people are missing is the upside to accountability. Successful people end up getting recognized for their achievements. They get raises and promotions. They enjoy a strong sense of satisfaction and greater self-esteem in knowing they performed at a high level. To those who accept the risk associated with responsibility, the rewards can be great.
Several years ago I purchased an ad schedule from a company I worked for years ago. One part of the schedule was executed flawlessly and our client was very pleased with all of the positive feedback. The other part of the schedule was completely butchered; not by our rep, but by the operations staff whose job it was to make sure everything ran smoothly. To our rep’s credit, she not only accepted our gratitude for what went well, but also accepted responsibility for what did not, even though she was not directly responsible for the errors. We continued to renew our contract for the media that functioned well and avoided any discussion of the other, sending that portion of the budget to another vendor.
Fast forward three years. I was enjoying dinner with an old friend who also happened to be a former boss (how often does THAT happen?) who still works for the same company we worked for. Joining us for dinner was the manager who oversees the area of the company I used to be responsible for and supervises the department our aforementioned rep works in. I’ve always believed that if I was willing to complain when things weren’t handled well, I should also be willing to compliment and acknowledge the people who deserve it. I made it a point over dinner to accurately convey my experience with the schedules, and to complement our rep for how well she handled herself. Her behavior demonstrated a high level of empathy and professionalism. The terrific “thank you” card she sent to me not just acknowledged the business I continued to send her way, but conveyed her appreciation for my understanding of the value her company represented. The reality was, by pointing out all of the positives about our rep to her boss and her bosses’ boss, I was in essence congratulating both of them on the fantastic hire they made and the value to the company our rep provided.
Unbeknownst to me, my friend/former boss and the manager conveyed our conversation the next day at a company meeting and in front of everyone, congratulated our rep for a job well done. I then got a call from our rep who, while more than a little embarrassed, was very grateful for the kind words I had shared on her behalf, which as I explained to her, was simply the truth.
Less than a year later I received a call from our rep letting me know that she had been promoted to a different area of the company, where she really wanted to work, and thanking me again for my kind words that night over dinner. I congratulated her on her promotion, but was quick to add that she was the person responsible for her success. All I did was make sure she received the credit she deserved for a job well done.
Our rep could have accepted credit for what she did right, and pointed the finger at the person or department that failed to execute the other component of our schedule, but she didn’t because in her mind she was my rep and therefor responsible for everything that happened, good or bad.
She was accountable.
In closing, don’t be afraid to embrace accountability. Take credit for what works well, and own what doesn’t. If you’re going to get blamed for it anyway, make sure you know what happened and why so you can prevent the same errors from reoccurring. Note how instead of assuming I and my client were a lost cause moving forward, our rep redoubled her efforts to make sure all aspects of future schedules were handled flawlessly.
You never know who knows who, so assume everything you do right or wrong will see the light of day. Believe in yourself. Know that even if you do everything right (and who among us can say that?), everything isn’t going to go your way all the time. If you focus on what really matters, i.e. the needs of the customer, you’ll be successful and receive the recognition you so richly deserve.