During a leadership development workshop, we were discussing the keys to building accountability and ownership. One participant told us that he and his wife had their four-year-old grandson, Jordan, for a sleepover at their house. In the morning, he came running down the stairs and reported, “Grandma, Grandpa, somebody peed in my bed!” Now, who do you think did that? Was it that trickster, Grandpa?
Kids often avoid taking responsibility for their behaviors. This may extend into young siblings or classmates playing “the blame game” as they point fingers at others.
Ownership and accountability is a key performance issue. Whether people embrace ownership and take responsibility for their individual and team performance is highly dependent on leadership and culture. Self-accountability is really all there is. Getting people to take personal ownership is the only way to avoid the blame game.
Accountability can have vastly different meanings depending on whether you’re on the giving or receiving end. Many of us have been lashed with the accountability whip wielded by a manager playing “gotcha games.” That’s a major factor in the destructive impact of performance appraisals or performance management systems. Too often, it’s a “rank, spank, and yank” process; the dismal outcome of poor — or non-existent — coaching practices.
The purpose of performance discussions should be mutual learning and development. But many times, they’re based on “accountability” that’s really about fault finding and playing the blame game. Effective performance management systems are shifting from accountability to development. And research shows the best development is building strengths rather than finding and fixing performance gaps. Tomorrow we publish my October blogs in the November issue of The Leader Letter. This issue starts with a feedforward process for building on strengths.
Building a culture of accountability starts with leaders looking in the mirror. I can’t get them to take more accountability until I step up and take accountability for my leadership. It’s easy to come up with changes I’d like to see in others. It takes leadership courage to change me in order to change them.
Meetings are a great example. Many are so poorly run they’re virtually useless. Or worse, they’re black holes sucking in and destroying time and energy. Who’s accountable for that? It starts with the meeting leader but includes all participants who enable bad meetings. In our November issue, you’ll find a meeting effectiveness checklist. Use it to step up and end the meeting madness.
An organization’s culture ripples out from the team leading it. Too many leaders avoid personal feedback while asking HR for performance appraisal systems. They fervently believe in accountability — for everyone else.
Blissfully blind to their video out of sync with their audio, these leaders run sloppy meetings but want a more disciplined organization. Disrespectful leaders tell team members to provide more respectful customer service. Leaders make snide remarks about their peers or other groups but want more teamwork. Leaders blaming “them” and making excuses for their own performance want to improve engagement and ownership. Leadership teams with poor decision-making processes want fast, flexible, and agile organizations. And leaders who don’t follow through and keep commitments want more accountability in their organizations. Use the 10-point team checklist in our November issue to assess whether you’re leading a scream or a dream team?
Accountability is a slippery subject. Like beauty, excellence, or quality, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Accountability starts with that truism that’s becoming a worn-out cliché, leading by example. Many leaders fail to recognize that their words and actions don’t match — like this sign on the door of a repair shop — WE CAN REPAIR ANYTHING (please knock hard on the door…the buzzer doesn’t work).