An adolescent living in a highly impoverished community might be taught that accountability means stealing or begging for food as the only means of securing nourishment to support survival.
If that child lives on a farm, he or she might be taught accountability by tending to the animals or helping with the harvest. And, if that child lives in the Lehigh Valley, accountability might be taught through completing chores such as looking after a sibling, picking up, taking out the trash or mowing the grass.
Learning the meaning of accountability takes on different perspectives based on which part of the world we live. It is not restricted to a particular culture, religious belief, ethic group, skin color, age or other similar elements. Most every child is taught some form of accountability starting at a very early age.
As we grow through our stages of maturing, we learn to be accountable and responsible for many things. More things than we could have imagined or anticipated as children.
When we enter the workforce, we become accountable for the work we produce. But we are not always enlightened to the impact our personal accountability or lack of accountability can have on other aspects of the company – people, productivity, performance and profits.
This is usually a result of departmental or divisional silos, onboarding processes that do not include full-spectrum shadowing or lack of the use of cross-functional groups for training or problem solving.
In the business world, companies struggle when individuals, at all levels of the organization, fail to demonstrate personal accountability. The simplest thing, such as not putting a work tool back in its proper location, can result in lost time and revenue, missed deadlines and lots of aggravation.
More complex examples create greater struggles, and, in fact, can cause damage to relationships, poor communication, erosion of trust, loss of income and profitability and much worse.
Our busy lives keep us so distracted that many times we take things such as accountability for granted and expect that everyone else knows what we believe.
The first sign of a breakdown in that line of thinking is when things don’t go according to plan. People have a tendency to look at others to shoulder the blame or consequences, instead of looking inward and seeing what they could have done differently to produce a better outcome.
You may think everyone on your team understands what being accountable means in your company. But, when you take individual cultures and how and what we learn as children into consideration, you may be surprised how people respond to these questions:
(1) What is accountability?
(2) What does accountability look like? Sound like? Feel like?
The longer people work together and create synergetic relationships, the more similarly they will answer these questions. Asking team members to describe a key word such as accountability at different levels of understanding (look like, sound like, feel like) will help them have a deeper, more visual perspective.
Working with companies from a variety of industries, I find the following questions helpful in demonstrating the powerful nature of personal accountability – and the impact it has in the workplace.
(1) Show the team individual pictures of various business environments such as an operating room, a teller line in a bank, the kitchen in a restaurant and a manufacturing assembly line.
(2) Ask: “What would happen in each of these environments if one person did not take personal accountability?” You can imagine some of the responses.
(3) Then show a picture of your business and ask the same question. Watch how the body language changes and listen to the words people use. Helping everyone realize that whatever can happen in those other businesses can happen “here,” when one person is not being accountable, will be very eye-opening. Everyone will get a very clear picture of the importance of personal accountability.
(4) You also can use this concept with loved ones if you are struggling with teaching personal accountability. By changing out the pictures of businesses to environments that are related to personal lives, similar conclusions will result, and the impact to the individual will be reinforced ten-fold.
Demonstrating personal accountability does not need to start at the top of an organization, but it probably should.
Many people model accountability while working in organizations where the top leader’s primary shortcoming is a lack of accountability. It is not the healthiest and most productive work environment, but, unfortunately, it exists in many businesses.
Business leaders run the risk of being viewed as lacking accountability when they continue to ignore poor behaviors and performance coming from “loyal” individuals, avoid communicating critical information to employees and do not invest in training for themselves and others.
These things can have a negative impact on the company’s culture and bottom line, making people feel less valued and uninspired. Sooner or later, they will be on to greener pastures.
Bonnie Sussman-Versace – business leader, entrepreneur and principal of Focused LLC in Wyomissing – is dedicated to developing leaders, enhancing cultures and improving performance for business growth and prosperity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.