I had ordered a meal and let the conversation around the table carry away the wait. When the order arrived, it was a different server who placed my plate in front of me. It was almost correct. I had ordered fish and what was on my plate was indeed fish. The problem was I had ordered it prepared a different way.
When the server sat it down I told him so and also suggested I keep it. I’d waited long enough.
In under two minutes the server who had taken my order was at the table offering an articulate and sincere apology for the mix-up. In that one moment, the server identified herself as a Keeper. Why?
An accountable person understands that mistakes happen and they own up to them when they do. They don’t have to be chased down and confronted about it. They don’t try to cover up or ignore it hoping it goes undiscovered. No, they report to you and explain what happened.
Accountability is an active trait, not passive. It takes the lead. Accountable people offer no transparent excuses, no blame-shifting, no relocating the guilt. There is a reality show series on TV called Restaurant Undercover or something like that. Restaurant owners who suspect an employee of theft hires a company to install hidden monitoring devices to find out what happens. I have watched a few episodes. In every one I’ve seen, when the culprit is caught they try to relocate their guilt back onto the restaurant owner. They all claim that their job performance is above and beyond the call of duty. They refuse to even acknowledge their incompetence or thievery instead they try to shame the owner because they are not more appreciative of the culprit’s hard work, sacrifice, and effort.
Weasels annoy me…big time. I live by the creed that if something is amiss, simply acknowledge it, find a solution, and keep moving. Accountable people exhibit two character traits that add to their keepability.
First, they conduct their lives with a high degree of responsibility. I will explore the traits of diligence and prudence later in this series, but those two traits find a seed plot right here. Accountable people don’t like error or defeat and live so as to avoid it as much as possible.
Second, when it happens, they report it to their superiors and those connected and involved associates before it becomes a bigger issue. They realize that failure is an event and live so that it does not become a way of life.
Throwaway people don’t. They live carelessly, fail to exercise due diligence, ignore prudence, and cover themselves with the slippery film of excuse-making and blame-shifting.
Whenever you are engaged with employing others, you do so because there are jobs that must be done that you, because of time or skill, cannot and should not try to do. I’ve said this so often in this blog through the years that it’s become almost a mantra. We engage others to extend our reach, multiply our effectiveness, and divide our work. We hire others, we delegate responsibility to others so they will solve problems, not create more.
The accountability component is built of the reality that a leader can never give away all his authority. S/he is ultimately responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen. All responsibility and the authority to fulfill that responsibility is released under a carefully determined agreement. Whenever you as leader/manager allow others to participate in the process of work for your company, whether it is one person or dozens or more, a contract implication exists.
By implication in accepting the responsibility the person accepting the job has agreed that if you will grant them the authority to do this job, they will award to you the accountability both you and the task deserve. Whenever an associate accepts a responsibility, they become, at least in that instance, a subordinate. Because authority and responsibility flows much like an electric current, if power is ever going to accomplish work, it must flow within a circuit. Current leaves the source, flows through wires and machinery, and returns to the source. If the circuit breaks, power stops and along with it the machinery. If it short circuits, a destructive fire could result. You as leader/manager release power (authority) to do the job but the circuit must flow back to you. The return trip is called accountability. The power source is you. To maintain a safe and effective flow of power, it eventually has to come back to you.
You have every right to expect that the accountability comes to you. You should not have to go get it from anyone. This initiative is what makes someone a keeper. They find you, make their report, and keep the machinery running. I do want to state that accountability does not only exist when something goes wrong. Accountability is not limited to the times something goes wrong. Perhaps most often accountability need to function when everything goes right.
When someone accepts responsibility they agree to three things:
- I will do it
- I will let you know as soon as I know if I am not going to be able to do what we agreed to in the time we set.
- I will tell you why I cannot meet my obligation and what I will do to prevent it from happening again.
Accountability is a broad topic and I do not presume to have addressed more than one facet of it in this post. However, I do want to include one more piece of the subject.
Some leaders/managers are uncomfortable either holding people accountable or accepting accountability from a subordinate or an associate. If this is you, you’ll need to acquire that ability. The flow of authority and responsibility depends on a system of accountability. Quality control, customer satisfaction, obligations to constituents, the very vision of the business or organization rests on the smooth flower of power throughout the system. Please do not minimize when an employee or associate brings news of a failure. Don’t over-react either. Deal with the issues, leave persons and personalities out of it, move on. Don’t gloss over it when they do well and report a success either. Celebrate the completion of a responsibility and build the bank of good will between your and those you rely on to carry out the many tasks of your group.
Next installment = Psychological security, maturity in action.