In the context of business, we often talk about accountability and responsibility and use the terms inter-changeably. But they are not the same thing.
Responsiblity means performing an action while accountability means producing an outcome. For example, think of a production line where each worker has a different job. Each worker is responsible for doing their job to the best of their ability, but they are not accountable for the final product because they only impact a portion of the process to make that final product. So who is accountable for the final product? Someone who oversees the entire production of that product (Plant Manager or Supervisor). We can't be expected to be accountable for something that we can't fully influence.
So then, how can we ensure accountability within an organization? We hear many situations where leaders don't act accountably when their organizations make mistakes, so why is that? Because accountability is only truly achieved when an individual holds him or herself accountable. Tony Hayward of BP spents weeks blaming others for the oil spill his company caused, even though he should have been accountable. He didn't seemed worried that he might get fired, or go to jail, or become public enemy #1. External forces don't impact whether or not we hold ourselves accountable.
True accountability comes from within each of us in the way that we act, what we say and how we treat others. It is about self-mastery. Once we have mastered who we are and what we believe, then we become accountable for those things that we can control or those things that require someone to be accountable. We are accountable because we have an emotional investment in the outcome, not because of the threat of negative consequences. That is why accountability must ultimately fall on the shoulders of one person. You can't have accountability by a group of people because then no one takes ownership for the successful outcome.
The most successful organizations have the types of people who hold themselves accountable for success and outcomes, regardless of the incentives or disincentives that are in place. These are the companies you read about and the ones that that everyone wants to work for and be associated with.
Here are the three keys to having an organization built on accountability:
- Create an emotional connection between your customers and your employees-Try to ensure that your employees recognize the impact of putting out a low quality product or service so they are motivated to do better.
- For key positions, hire people who are interested in self-development and personal growth-These employees tend to have more accountability in the outcomes they deliver because they recognize the value of taking responsibility for their own life and looking for ways to improve themselves.
- Provide employees the opportunity to try something and fail-When something doesn't work out, you will see an employee's true colours and how resilient they are. Do they feel compelled to try again until they are successful or do they focus on all the reasons why it didn't work?
Creating a culture of accountability starts with the leadership and hiring decisions you make, so don't ignore that when determining the type of culture you want.