“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
A few years ago, my team and I took the Strengthsfinder’s assessment by Tom Rath. In a nutshell, it is a personality assessment that helps identify your strengths. There were no surprises when I took the test other than one. It put my “strongest” strength as Responsibility. At first I thought it was way off until I started thinking about all of my behaviors. The truth is that I take responsibility for pretty much everything around me. Even if I have nothing to do with it.
So with the responsibility of the world on my shoulders, I am writing this blog to B^*&ch about the demise of accountability in the workplace and life.
I recently had the misfortune of having to pull one of my consultants from a client. The consultant was not succeeding and it was evident that the project would suffer if they continued. I’d love to say that I have a perfect record of picking strong, senior level resources, but no one’s perfect. (This story is a combination of a few similar situations over the last 27 years). Here’s the difference though, my client didn’t tell us to pull the consultant. They didn’t see the problems that we did. We told them we needed to act. We explained the reasons we were failing and how we would fix it. I was reminded of the most important lesson from what happened next. The client’s reaction? Gratitude and surprise. They shared that they might have seen some of this but they overlooked some issues. I even received a call from a client executive thanking me for the way that we handled the situation. The executive said that in all their years, no other consulting firm had proactively taken action and pulled their own resource. They’ve always waited to be told to remove someone. Once again proving to me that accountability is one of our most important differentiators.
And therein lies my issue. When did accountability become such an extraordinary expectation? Or maybe the expectation is being met but the expectations are too low. Everyone seems to use the term responsible in place of the term accountable. I believe that is an error that sets up a series of unfortunate consequences. Why? In my 25+ years of work experience, I have only met a handful of people that weren’t responsible. (I’ve dealt with a few con artists unfortunately). For the most part, people want to do the right thing and will put forth the effort to meet expectations. The number of people I have met who take accountability for their actions and their work has been far fewer but much more important to an organization’s success.
From frivolous lawsuits to finger pointing to blaming our woes on another group of individuals…why is it so difficult to take ownership for our own decisions? If you screw up at work, don’t point the finger at someone else! I’m always amazed at the strength of an apology. I learned a long time ago that problems don’t fester when someone apologizes. I think it’s because no one expects an apology so they prepare for a fight and then are thrown off when they get an apology instead. An apology often helps people move on so that I can focus on how to correct the problem rather than spend time discussing the past. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t make it a practice of accepting other people’s mistakes but it does come in handy when I want people to focus on fixing something rather than being stuck on figuring out who can be blamed.
Studies show that when we set higher expectations and give our children opportunity and support, they will rise to meet those expectations. Shouldn’t CXOs be setting higher expectations for their employees? Shouldn’t we all be setting higher expectations for ourselves? Until that happens, I will be happy to uphold accountability as one of our company differentiators.