“The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future.” –Gifford Pinchot
Social influence is a powerful thing—whether for good or for evil. As a big believer in positivity, I'd like to see it used for good—promoting a culture of self-improvement, positive attitudes, and accountability. Accountability is about committing ourselves to stay above circumstances, both in how we think and in what we do. A culture of individual accountability creates a good kind of social pressure that recognizes each person’s responsibility and ability to be part of reaching a higher standard.
You know you have a culture of personal accountability when team members and leaders actively follow these guidelines:
1. They take personal ownership of performance and outcomes.
Growing up, my dad never let me blame anyone or anything. He said, “When you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you!” Adopting a mindset of total ownership is crucial to succeeding, no matter the market conditions. People’s reactions to falling short demonstrate whether they blame or claim. Looking first at our own behaviors and mindsets demonstrates personal accountability, while blaming circumstances demonstrates a victim mindset.
2. They proactively pursue solutions.
The victim mindset also leads to waiting for instructions at an impasse rather than taking charge and proactively seeking the information needed to make a decision. Rules can provide an excuse to remain complacent. When team members are willing to challenge the “rules” (or standard procedures) as well as their own assumptions, you have a climate of accountability.
As uncomfortable as it is to think of the willingness to break rules as a good thing, it is true. Team members must feel the freedom to challenge the rules to best support the team. What you really need is individuals who will take ownership over finding solutions.
Without conflict, there is no change. Doing what’s uncomfortable helps us become the best version of ourselves, pushing us outside of our comfort zones.
3. They see the connection between their effort and results.
When the social influence tends toward the belief that the future is what you make it, you have cultural accountability. Success is linear—rising and falling with effort. Productive thinking says, “What I am currently doing equals what I am currently getting. If I improve what I am currently doing, then I will improve what I am getting.”
The opposite is the belief that efforts don’t matter and success is up to the gods—who either shine down on you or don’t. We’d never identify ourselves that way, but some-times, we operate with that mindset—with underlying beliefs that say it’s not up to us. We say things like, “Good luck” or “I got lucky.” We also make excuses when we fail.
4. They plan ahead.
Executives hold entire meetings just to plan for the next quarter or for upcoming years and events. This is expected, not extraordinary. But you know you have cultural ac-countability when team members at every level think ahead instead of just reacting to their current day’s or week’s situation.
A salesperson saying, “I sold 20 units this year and I’m gonna sell 30 next year,” isn’t extraordinary. On the other hand, an employee with a well-thought out plan in place to reach that goal demonstrates personal accountability. They’ll go beyond saying they’ll make two sales in January and four in March because “it’s seasonal” or “the market is better.” They’ll think through a plan for driving traffic when it’s low and reaching out to realtors.
Similarly, they think through the resources available for an effort. They know they are accountable for their own performance and aren't going to just jump in and pick the first option.
Planning is about being realistic, working out a plan, and examining options before act-ing.
5. They take responsibility for how their actions impact others.
Ted Terry, CEO for Crescent Homes, says that in order to have an “unleavable” culture, there must be a team mentality. “Instead of being micro-managed,” he says, the environment must demonstrate that “we need everyone’s ideas to make our team better.”
The team mindset also leads to the understanding that, for better or for worse, every-thing we do affects others. This goes for the obvious things (like whether or not we fol-low through on commitments) as well as for those that have unintended consequences.
Many of us pride ourselves at being proactive and doing what needs to be done, whether it’s our responsibility or not. If it seems like the right thing to do or what the client or company needs, then we’ll step in. This is often a good thing.
The problem is that taking initiative to do someone else’s job can end up crippling that person. They may end up removing the task from their mental to-do list and perpetuating the cycle of someone else picking up the slack.
They may also end up defensive, thinking, “What was wrong with the way I was doing it?” They may perceive the support as negative feedback or even feel misjudged because they simply had not had a chance to do the job yet. When this happens, they feel that their effort does not count, which lessens the chances that they will take accountability for their work in the future.
A well-intentioned action may have a negative effect on someone else’s performance. The person who is accountable must have clear expectations and feedback on the timing and quality of their job. This is much more productive than someone taking over their responsibilities.
Accountability means making choices, approaching work, or accepting decisions that support other people’s accountability and what is best for the team.
The bottom line is that sometimes, taking charge means stepping back and getting out of someone else’s way.
6. They govern themselves.
At every level of the company, employees spend very little time getting direction from their boss. Most of the time, they direct their own work and are responsible for de-termining how things get done. We’re our own leader – and the only leader available to us most of the time.
Accountability is about each individual maintaining that leadership position. It’s self-leadership. The person in charge of you most of the time is you. Our success, while it may be influenced by many other factors, is really up to each of us. In fact, looking to someone else for direction leaves us rather vulnerable.
A culture of accountability doesn’t get leadership off the hook. After he finished the grueling work required to be a contestant on the weight loss show The Biggest Los-er, Erik Chopin got a lot of advice he judged as silly. He’d just kicked butt to lose 200 pounds and thought he’d learned what he needed to learn. “Beyond the finish line, I’d heard from so many people [that] maintenance is the hardest thing,” Chopin said. “[I used to think,] ‘Try losing 200 pounds!’ But maintenance really is a lifetime.” Even after building a culture of accountability, employees need support and leadership if they are going to have sustainable success.
Building accountability builds productivity. Let’s build a culture that promotes in-dividual and team productivity. And let’s also remember that in all cultures, people still need a little help from their friends (or bosses).