The Rules Of Personal Accountability

Being a professor for many years, and being a professional speaker for even longer, I see hot topics come and go.  And so do you.  All of us in the business world remember when topics like quality circles, total quality management, re-engineering the corporation, re-inventing government, self-managed work teams, servant leadership, emotional intelligence, and the hedgehog concept were all the rage. 

And as you also know, some of those hot topics were simply re-branded skills and concepts from years before.  For example, Aristotle made the same seven points in his writings that Covey made in his book on “7 Habits.”   Some of those other hot topics proved to be fads or failures.

Now the rage of the day, the really hot topic is personal accountability.  And I think is not only hot, it’s a critical element in personal, professional, and business success.  While our culture is going through a time of “blame everybody else, nothing’s my fault,” we desperately need people who live a life and work a job … filled with accountability.

If you want to see more accountability in your organization, you must implement two rules.  Number one, you must commit yourself to talking to other people, not about other people.   If you allow people to talk behind backs, you’re endorsing gossip and dishonesty instead of encouraging candor and communication.

Second, there can be no meetings after the meeting.  It’s one thing to talk about how you’re going to implement what was decided at a meeting, but it’s something entirely different to raise questions and doubts you never raised at the meeting. 

Some of you are trying to instill a culture of accountablity in your organization, and I applaud you.  But just in case your colleagues are resisting your push for more accountability, ask your people this question.  On a scale of 0 to 100, how accountable should a person be?  What percentage of the success is up to the individual and what percentage is due to outside circumstances in any given situation?

Most people will say that they are accountable for anywhere between 20 and 80% of the success that takes place on the job.  Outside circumstances account for the remainder of the outcome, good or bad. 

On the surface, that makes some sense, but on a deeper level it’s insane.  If, for example, you were on the surgery table, how accountable do you want each member of the surgical team to be?  You would probably say,  “I want each person to be a 100% accountable.”  You wouldn’t want any of the doctors or nurses to say, “Well, you know, I had a fight with my spouse this morning and the traffic really got to me on the way to work. So I’m just not at my best, and I can’t be held accountable for my perforance today.”

When we think in those terms, we want everybody around us to take 100% accountability.  And if you’re a leader or a manager, you had better hold your people accountable … or you WILL LOSE your best people.  You can’t afford to pay that price.