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Accountability is Everything

In the book The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability (Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman), the authors use the classic story of The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for organizations learning how to be accountable.

Dorothy and her companions discover that they already possessed the skills they needed. You will discover the same thing. You have the skills to embrace a culture of accountability. You just need to face up to reality and be willing to use them.

Most people think of accountability in negative terms:

  1. Being in trouble or getting a warning

  2. Having missing something

  3. Being called to task for reduced performance

  4. Holding someone else accountable when problems develop

  5. Finding someone to blame when there’s a problem

  6. Having something done to you by management

  7. Having to explain yourself

A more positive definition of accountability is the willingness to accept responsibility: “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” (The Oz Principle, Connors and Smith, 2004.)

  1. Taking accountability versus holding others accountable

  2. Being responsible

  3. Making personal commitments, and meeting those commitments

  4. Focusing on outcomes

The three key components of accountability

  1. Be clear in setting expectations

Everyone in the organization must be responsible to understand what they signed up for and be accountable to it.

Within an organization, if something goes wrong, rather than blame a person or a department, we need to poke around and examine the system, asking what we can do to fix it. We shift from the knee-jerk reaction of pointing fingers, to taking responsibility and calling a small group together closest to the problem. We become accountable for the solution.

The desired outcome must be crystal clear and simple (remember the KISS principle) and consistently understood across the board.

  1. Get lined up

Everyone in the organization must know exactly what they’re supposed to do, and mustn’t be afraid to ask if they don’t know. There must also be a process in place for re-alignment whenever needed.

Consider a restaurant and the importance of everyone knowing their task, their role and exactly what they do before handing off the food to the next person working in the kitchen. Each person assumes responsibility for an area of the kitchen tasks. All are focused. If the line gets bogged down, they communicate to each other and help each other so that a bottleneck does not happen. They have one goal. They win or lose together.

Communication is crucial (“I got it!”). In organizations, we also work together as a system, focused on a positive outcome.

  1. Choice

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl was in three Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. He decided to choose his way of thinking about his situation. He chose not to be a victim. We can choose if we want to step up to responsibility and own it or not.

Will you choose to own your part?

Some of us get comfortable complaining. We may feel helpless, and  we’re not sure anything is going to get better anyway. Some of the behaviors that indicate you are not lined up are:

  1. Pointing fingers

  2. Being in denial

  3. Feeling a lack of control

  4. Blaming others

  5. Bashing your colleagues or bosses

  6. Focusing on what can’t be done

  7. Failing to confront issues

You may say things like:

  1. “That’s not my job.”

  2. “If it were me, I’d do it differently.”

  3. “My boss won’t listen to me.”

  4. “I don’t have control over this.”

  5. “What good will that do?”

Moving from the negative to a place of accountability happens when you ask yourself:

  1. How did my actions contribute to the situation?

  2. How can I add value to this issue?

  3. What can I do to make it better?

  4. What can I control in this situation?

  5. If the problem is trust in teammate, what can I do to improve trust?

  6. How can I better approach this situation?

  7. What system is broken?

  8. What can I do about it?

Notice the “I” language of accountability in all these questions.

Reframing your perspective

“You can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created the problem.” – Albert Einstein

Consider the metaphor of a camera lens. What do you see with a wide-angle lens versus a zoom lens? How does a tree look different at ground level from an aerial view? Are you having trouble seeing the forest for the trees?

Reframing moves a conversation forward and expands our limited thinking. This newfound clarity builds energy. This feels good and propels us forward towards finding a solution.

Accountability is kind of like when you and your sibling got in a fight as a kid. You may have acted helpless and whined to your Mom expecting her to solve it, and your Mom said, “Figure it out!” She was placing the two of you above the line, accountable. This helped you reframe the situation, accept responsibility, and move from helpless victim to empowered problem solver.

Are you burying your head in the sand, ignoring your responsibility? Which of these three components will most help you out? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.

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