Achieving Results and the Power of Accountability

By Michael Wilkinson

Certified Master Facilitator
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.
Author, The Secrets of Facilitation andThe Secrets to Masterful Meetings

How often have you participated in planning efforts that resulted in insightful conclusions, innovative strategies, and great projections of success that were then put in a notebook, placed on a shelf and never implemented?  What a waste of time!

How do you avoid this?  We believe the answer is accountability. 
We have worked with organizations on strategic initiatives for nearly two decades.  Over this period we have seen organizations that have been highly successful and we have seen other organizations that have failed to get out of the starting gate.

Why does this happen? We believe, more times than not, the answer is accountability, or more specifically, the lack thereof. We believe effective accountability has five critical components. 

Clear identification and articulation of the work to be done, the expectations surrounding it and a plan for achieving it.

This first step is often where the breakdown of accountability starts.  How often is it that work is not clearly defined or expectations not clearly articulated or a plan not delineated for achieving the work?

Accepted Responsibility

Once the work is defined, someone has to accept responsibility for getting it done.  Please note, assigned responsibility is not the same as accepted responsibility.  Has the person been simply assigned it or has the person accepted that it is his/her responsibility for accomplishing it?

Monitoring and Reporting

Accountability comes from the Latin word that literally means “to give an account.”  We may have accepted the responsibility for clearly defined work.  However, without a monitoring and reporting process (i.e., without a process for people to give an account), there is essentially no accountability.

Reward for Accomplishment

A key to effective accountability is to have a reward for accomplishing the item for which we are being held accountable.  In the workplace, rewards can take a variety of forms, including recognition, time off, gift certificates, convenient parking space, etc.

Consequences for lack of performance.

Consequences are necessary to ensure that there is both a “carrot” for performance and a “stick” for lack of performance.  While many organizations avoid the stick, we find it is an essential component for letting people know they have let down the team.

While sometime the lack of performance is so significant and so severe that it requires “freeing up the person’s future,” in most cases, a less severe consequence is more appropriate.  One of the strategies we have seen helpful is having the team define consequences in advance.  Simple consequences such as cleaning up the break room or taking another person’s team out to lunch may be suitable.  (Consider using the accountability dice fully described in a Leadership Strategies article titled with that same name.)

What happens if one or more of the accountability components is missing?

  • If any one of the components is missing, you will likely have a significant breakdown in accountability. 
  • If two or more components are missing, the level of accountability is so low, for most situations you can pretty much say that accountability is non-existent.  The work may still get done, but most likely due to the sheer will and desire of those involved and in spite of, not with the support of, any process, oversight, or leadership.

Make sure your team delivers on your strategic initiatives.  Consider implementing effective accountability strategies.  You can learn more powerful leadership approaches through our course, From Management to Leadership.

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company and author of  The Secrets of Facilitation and The Secrets to Masterful Meetings.  He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a much sought after strategic planning facilitator and speaker.

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