Rethinking Accountability — It’s High Time!
In every organizational relationship, there’s an accountability equation at play. Accountability matters because it functions as the invisible thread that enables effective interactions with others.
But in its traditional sense, accountability is thought of as having to answer to or justify your actions to someone who has power over you. This person assumes the role of watchdog or enforcer who, in a punitive way, looks to assign blame or hold someone responsible if anything falls short regarding delivering the job at hand.
This traditional notion — we can refer to it as “accountability 1.0” — has serious flaws. It shapes how we interact with people on a personal and professional level by imposing an inherently transactional, product-driven approach based on threats.
A new evolution of accountability, conscious accountability, recognizes the value of attending to relationships as crucial for achieving success. The key differentiator is that accountability now becomes less transactional, and more transformational. It encourages doing right by ourselves and others, and results in greater job satisfaction, elevated relationships, and better business outcomes.
Creating conscious accountability revolves around honing these seven practices:
- Creating clarity.
This is about establishing a clear vision and shared goals and expectations. It requires strong, clear communication in which people negotiate the terms of interacting together so that they can identify and iron out any areas of potential disagreement or misalignment. For example, at the outset of every meeting, it helps to establish both the desired outcomes (“What do we want to walk away with?”), as well as the desired process for reaching the outcomes (“How do we need to work together to reach our goals?”).
- Opening up engagement.
This practice involves creating the conditions in which people feel safe and free to express themselves — and thereby feel committed to working together to complete the tasks at hand. For example, establishing a sense of safety can mean emphasizing the importance of learning (especially learning through trial and error), which helps team members feel more comfortable admitting and discussing times when things didn’t go as planned. It can also mean helping the team see why their work matters in order to foster greater commitment among team members.
- Nailing it.
This means doing what you say you’ll do and ensuring that others do the same. It often involves helping others organize toward task completion. For example, with important deadlines, sitting down with team members to help them figure out how to carry out the necessary actions can help ensure the team’s focus.
In this practice, people pay attention to what they’re seeing outwardly and experiencing inwardly, and they actively check in with others to share their observations and ensure others are doing okay with their part. This includes noticing when actions are veering off from previously agreed upon intentions. It can also involve checking in with team members after delegating a project to see how it’s going and ensure they have what they need to make progress.
- Exchanging feedback.
Soliciting, receiving, and giving feedback helps expand awareness, share what is or isn’t working, and make any necessary course corrections. It must be given and received constructively and non-judgmentally with the intention of building alignment. This could mean inviting each person to share one appreciation of what went well and one wish for how things could go better in the coming week.
- Claiming it.
This practice is about taking ownership and responsibility for the results — both the successes and the failures — and consolidating the learning without blaming others. When a project is successful, it’s important to recognize the individuals and team members that made it happen. When a project fails, the team leader (and members) take responsibility for ensuring that measures are put in place so it never happens again.
- Trying again.
This involves taking what you’ve learned from an experience and applying it to the next situation. It’s crucial for creating a cycle of continuous improvement. It could mean sitting down with your team after each project wraps up, reviewing what happened, determining what you’ve learned and deciding how to implement any new insights in the next project.
With these practices in place, you and your team engage in conscious accountability that allows you to optimize your personal, interpersonal, and team effectiveness. You will inspire excellence by creating a culture of accountability for yourself and others around you.
Written by David C. Tate and Marianne S. Pantalon.
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