The top 5 lies about accountability
Accountability. It’s often mentioned but rarely practiced.
When you’re held accountable for your actions, you are, according to Dictionary.com, “subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.”
Knowing you’re expected to report on your progress or accomplishments can be a great motivator, since, if you fail to produce, there’s significant embarrassment involved in admitting your non-performance. That’s why accountability is such a powerful business-building tool: When faced with doing an uncomfortable but important task OR admitting publicly that you chickened out, most people will choose the task.
Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions about accountability. In fact, they practically qualify as outright lies, and you risk your business success if you believe and act on any of them. Here they are and the corresponding truths about accountability.
- Lie: Accountability is just another word for punishment.
You’ve probably encountered a Manager From Hell at some point in your life: someone who seemed to be just waiting for you to make a mistake so they could pounce on you and berate you for not effectively doing what you were supposed to do. That sort of behavior is indeed a form of punishment; it is not, however, a form of accountability.
- Truth: Accountability is a highly effective and respectful method for creating win/win situations for all parties.
With the proper attitude, both the person being held accountable and her accountability partner benefit. When you’re being held accountable, you have a powerful reason and support system for doing what’s necessary. When you’re acting as the partner and holding someone else accountable, you’re being of service to her and—if you’re her manager in a corporate setting—you’re helping yourself look good by helping your subordinate look good.
- Lie: You should be equally accountable for every possible task.
It’s easy to consider it more important to be held responsible for, say, meeting with a current client than for sending information requested by a prospect. After all, you’ve got to set priorities somehow, right?
- Truth: You’ll get the best outcomes by choosing to be accountable for only those activities you’ve strategically identified as important.
You absolutely have to set priorities in order to survive, much less thrive, in business. The key here is to be accountable for activities you’ve identified as crucial to the health of your business and to ignore the non-crucial activities. If you’ve determined an activity or project deserves a place on your Crucial To Do list, then it’s totally appropriate for you to be held accountable for implementing it.
- Lie: Accountability makes more sense for corporate employees operating in a formal hierarchy than it does for solopreneurs or small-business owners.
It’s true that annual performance appraisals are a form of accountability more common in corporations than elsewhere. However, to say that accountability only makes sense in a corporate setting is like saying that creating profitable outcomes only matters in a corporate setting: It’s just not true.
- Truth: Accountability makes sense for anyone who is responsible for producing results. The more directly responsible you are for outcomes, the greater the need for accountability.
A corporate employee reasonably feels that she’s contributing to the overall success of the company. But if you’re the only person, or one of only a few people, contributing to your venture’s success, your contributions are proportionally much greater. This means it’s absolutely essential that you identify and implement your mission-critical activities—and have an accountability system in place to ensure that you do so.
- Lie: Broad or general statements are the best way to state what you’ll be accountable for.
Such statements make it easy to weasel out of doing the tough stuff, since you have failed to clearly define what that tough stuff is. It’s easy to claim that you’ve “worked on my social media marketing”, because that could mean something as ultimately unproductive as skimming the contributions of people you follow on Twitter without any idea of how you’ll interact with them or why.
Focus + implementation + accountability = exceptional outcomes.
- Truth: The only way for accountability to work is to state very specifically which tasks and outcomes you’re accepting responsibility for.
Specificity creates traction and gets you going. When you commit to “read those three articles on what makes content go viral; create a check list of these important features; use the check list to ensure that the blog post I will write incorporates at least half of these features”, you know exactly what you’re going to do, why you’re doing it, and when you’ve accomplished it.
- The NUMBER ONE Lie: Holding yourself accountable is more effective than being accountable to someone else.
Let’s face it: It’s both tempting and easy to let yourself off the hook for doing something that’s not especially comfortable but which you know will produce the results you want. (If that weren’t true, Americans would be eating healthful meals, exercising regularly, and no longer enjoying the dubious distinction of living in a country that consistently ranks as one of the three most obese countries in the world.)
- Truth: A trusted accountability partner can do FAR more to enhance your productivity, confidence, and results than you can by yourself.
When serving as the accountability partner for my clients, I act with ruthless compassion. In other words, clients are challenged to do what they commit to, and they know they’re expected to share their results (or non-results), but they also know they’re never going to be berated if they don’t pull it off. Rather, we’ll go into problem-solving mode to ensure that they have more success and get better outcomes the next time they tackle the activity. In a formal accountability relationship like this, knowing that they’ve invested money in the consulting and accountability is yet another incentive to step up to the plate and do what they know is important for their future success.
So…Have you gotten sucked into believing any of these lies? Are you allowing them to degrade your performance and sabotage your outcomes? If so, you’ve got a lot of company…but is it the kind of company you really want?
Perhaps it’s time to take your performance up a notch by getting serious about being accountable for your results. I don’t know if I’m the right person to help with that, but I do know I’d be interested in finding out. How ‘bout you? Is it worth it for each of us to invest 30 minutes or so asking and answering questions to determine whether we’d kick serious business butt together? If so, email me and we’ll set up a call to explore that possibility.
BTW, thank you to United Workers for posting the accountability image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.This entry was posted in achievement, effectiveness, productivity and tagged accountability, effectiveness. Bookmark the permalink.