Redefine Accountability in the Workplace

 In Accountability

Why We Need to Redefine Accountability in the Workplace

6 min read

Accountability is not a four letter word. Chances are you have encountered it before in your personal and professional life. It is a core concept of business ethics and execution. Yet, it seems to have a somewhat derogatory connotation. People can become quite overwhelmed with accountability and at times, are downright afraid of it.

That’s because accountability is one of the most misunderstood words in business. It is not negative at all. In fact, it is a very pivotal tool. Many people often overlook this because they avoid accountability. This goes especially for business owners who don’t know if they should love it or hate it. This confusion can permeate throughout the workplace and create an environment of resistance.

Accountability is actually an excellent tool for growth and improvement. So, why let such a great concept go to waste? We need to shift away from the negative connotation of accountability and use the tool to grow and improve our business.  

So, I bet you are wondering: how should we redefine accountability?

One definition of the word is: to account for one’s actions. More precisely in business, accountability is quantifying and understanding both the inputs and outputs of every process. It provides an idea about what we should be analyzing in our businesses. This goes for team members especially. By learning what is happening around us, we can figure out how to improve current processes. Whether it’s better yields or better returns, accountability helps us to evolve and highlights things we may need to change or improve upon.

It is also important to define what accountability is not. Too often I hear the statement, “We’ve got to hold that person accountable!” proclaimed on TV. It’s said with such great intensity that it makes me wonder what exactly do they even mean? The harshness equated with accountability gives the impression that someone might be punished severely.

This intensity happens for a specific reason. We tend to jumble up accountability with responsibility. This is a destructive practice. In organizations, this creates resistance and avoidance towards accountability rather than embracing it as a tool to improve.

What exactly allows this resistance to fester? When you place work responsibilities and accountability in the same boat, it increases a person’s fear of failure. As I discussed recently in one of my videos, humans are still an underdeveloped species. Yes, we are brilliant in many ways, however, we still operate under our survival modes. When we measure performance, we recognize there is an opportunity to fail. Failure causes us to react instinctively. If we fail, we will not achieve our desired outcomes. We will feel unaccomplished, unloved, and alone; and we humans hate these feelings!

How do we break this correlation? First, we need to understand the thought process behind it. We tend to think that if employees are underperforming, then they shouldn’t be there. Their lack of results means they don’t deserve to be part of the team. So, we let them go. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

It’s possible that the real behavior of these employees is being overlooked. Many arrive on time and are present. They are working very hard. They show they want to learn, evolve, and become the model team member. Sometimes our vision of accountability ignores these things.  Above all, our misconception denies us the tools to learn how we can make our business better.

Accountability is that tool. When used productively, accountability allows us to analyze and reflect on our situation. This process helps us to determine exactly what we must do to become more successful. We need to de-emphasize the negatives in performance, and instead, think about the outcomes of our investments. If we are already putting in energy, time, and money into something (our employees), we want to know what it’s providing for our business (account for their actions). Then the answers are all right there in front of us and we can evaluate the data and determine what actions need to change/improve and empower our employees to impact these results.

Ask yourself these questions: Am I working effectively? Spending enough energy on certain projects? Enough money? How is my total productivity? By strategically using accountability and measuring, you can answer these questions. Then, you can create benchmarks to assure progress and future success. Accountability pushes us to learn, develop, and makes us better human beings. Becoming stronger humans helps our teams and organizations to evolve into something fantastic.

How we approach accountability with our teams is very important. The discussion should be positive and productive with a flavor of improvement. It should not be a method of discipline or punishment. The next time we have any discussions on accountability, we should define it concisely.  I will give you a hand: accountability is a way to measure our inputs and outputs. This quantification will help us to discover how we can progress together. We will learn which levers we can move to impact outcomes. It is not a tool to judge or determine the value of your employees. It is a tool to inspire!

Accountability continues to be misused in businesses. But, by redefining it this way, you will see a big change in not only your team but in yourself. Suddenly, those ‘do better talks’ are more productive and growth oriented as you and your team focus on the measures and actions that impact them and how to modify for improvement. I hope that this new definition inspires you in your pursuits.

If you are curious about my take on humans as an underdeveloped species, please check out my video here. It is incredibly helpful in further understanding human behavior and, of course, accountability!

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