• 1st March 2007 - By proteman

    All of us have been in these situations before:

    - Everyone talks about ideas in a weekly meeting…and by the next week it’s apparent that nothing has happened.

    - Something goes wrong on a project… and there is a chain of emails about who was to blame and what they should have done.

    - A manager identifies a major need in his division…yet no one really wants to step up and do anything about it.

    These scenarios are all symptoms of a culture that lacks accountability. Managers often try to force accountability by instituting new metrics, policies and inspections; yet these actions are like applying a BAND-AID® to a broken bone. Tools like these don’t work if people aren’t bought in to the idea of accountability and are not willing to be accountable.

    Here are ways you can build a culture of accountability in your organization:

    Hire for Accountability. Accountability can’t be taught; you have to hire for it. The next time you’re interviewing a job candidate, ask:

    – “Tell me about a time when you stepped up and took ownership of a project that wasn’t really your ‘job.” (Listen to distinguish whether they took the initiative themselves or if they were asked to take on this project by someone else.)

    – “Tell me about a time when you dropped the ball on a project.” (Do they own up to their mistakes? What did they do to fix it or make things better?)

    – “Give me an example of a time when you were responsible for something that you didn’t have complete control over.” (What checks and balances did the person put in place on the front end to help ensure success, even when they didn’t have complete control over outcomes? Listen for signs of “victim mentality”. Do they blame someone or something else for their inability to succeed?)

    Address the “why’s” in advance. Its human nature to want to know “why” (think of children…”Why is the sky blue?”) . When assigning goals or new projects, make sure you explain the big picture (the why) to your team. It’s easy for a leader to simply lay out all of the to-do’s that they had thought about before a team meeting and simply ask others to take on tasks. Engage your employees by having an initial discussion about the big picture or overall strategy of your department. Give some background and talk about your vision to help set the stage. This helps employees understand the “whys” behind certain tasks.

    Let others help with the details. Most people don’t like to be told what to do. Employees are much more likely to eagerly work on an issue and think of creative solutions when they feel as though they had a hand in shaping the project themselves. As a leader, ask more questions and listen to others’ ideas before contributing your thoughts.

    Turn “we” statements into “I” statements. The next time you are in a meeting, listen for “we” statements. They sound like this: “We should be…” “We could…” “We need to be…” When a “we” statement comes up, pause and ask who specifically will take ownership of that task, define the results as a team and talk about realistic timelines. Write these out on a whiteboard, flip chart or record them in follow up minutes to be sent out immediately after the meeting. The goal should be to turn a list of verbal ideas into written tasks that have a defined owner, desired results and attainable deadline.

    Avoid “should” conversations. When something goes wrong on a project, teams often spend a lot of time talking about who was responsible and what “should” have been done. This often leads to a chain of who “should” have done xyz first…and is often an attempt to try and shift the blame (and the negative attention) to someone else. In the middle of a crisis, avoid the past and focus on what can be done about the problem now. Think back to the original desired results and discuss who can take on what steps to achieve those goals. After the project is completed, schedule a team debrief so that everyone can learn best practices and what to avoid next time.

    Don’t expect a year-end review to make people be accountable. A performance review, in and of itself, can’t make people take accountability. If you are working in an environment that currently lacks accountability, first think about what you can do to model accountability to those you lead throughout the year, not just at year-end.

    Building a culture of accountability means realizing that all the mission statements, standards, expectations and directives in the world won’t make a difference unless individuals choose to make a commitment to them. By taking steps to make your team want to be accountable, rather then forcing them, you will be well on your way to a culture of accountability in the workplace

    Imagine the power of everyone in your organization working smarter and focusing on a common vision…Check out TLG’s Performance in Action solutions to learn more.

    © 2006 The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved.

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