A few years ago I was at a seminar where the speaker highlighted some of the worst things he heard over the course of his extensive career as a business consultant. I got my popcorn ready because I figured some salacious stories were coming my way. Instead I learned more about failed accountability than you can ever imagine. I took the stories shared by Dale Henry (the speaker) and reflected upon the catchphrases I hear all the time. Dale had two that stood out—“It’s not my job” and “It’s not personal, it’s business.” He highlighted these as two of the most offensive things he hears when dealing with modern business operators. The moral of his tale was that these two phrases reflect the withering of personal components to business. These made me think though. I reflected upon the worst things I’ve heard from professionals across all industries since I began my career nearly 15 years ago. When thinking about the things people say to absolve themselves, one area has always troubled me—accountability. It has become the modern-day leprosy. It astonishes me how many people avoid accountability. Too few and far between “own” their mistakes or mishaps. Instead we hear these three all-too-common catchphrases when failure darkens our doors:
- “That’s not in my job description”—People use this to say I can’t be held accountable for a particular issue because it wasn’t in my wheelhouse. I can’t be held accountable because this wasn’t in my original set of responsibilities. The issue is the job description is never going to clearly stipulate every potential responsibility. In fact, in the modern world of work it is almost impossible to stipulate every responsibility but it is possible to ensure that all operators are accountable for organizational success or failure. With that in mind, the success of the organization is ALWAYS in your job description.
- “It’s is my fault but…” – People have a tendency to associate accountability with blame. This typically reflects a failed culture where punitive measures have gotten out of whack. Failure is a part of innovation and drives learning almost as much if not more than success. We all recall our parents telling us to learn from our mistakes. I believe it was Thomas Wayne who asked Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall?” The eventual Batman’s response was “So we can get back up.” A common tactic is share the blame with everyone else when fearing accountability. Don’t fear accountability. Fear not learning from mistakes.
- I tried to help them but they wouldn’t listen”—Who doesn’t like an “I told you so?” People dislike a know-it-all as much as anything else. In the workplace, this phrase reflects a desire to divorce oneself from the outcome by saying that they anticipated it but no one listened. The issue with this fallacy is that rarely do groups ignore a solid argument preventing failure. So accountability merely shifts from saying something to saying it strongly. Either way, this catchphrase rests in the minds of those Eddie-Haskell- or Kimmy-Gibbler-like colleagues who never want to own initiatives whether destined for success or failure. Don’t ride the fence. Own initiatives and their outcomes!
For HR professionals accountability is all-the-more critical as the outcomes affect people AND the bottom line. This is why ensuring someone understands accountability is absolutely critical. This is where competency-based certification matters most. With competency-based testing you can tell if someone understands the most accountable strategy for handling a difficult situation. You cannot assess this with knowledge and application items. Knowing which law applies to a situation where someone is seeking accountability is NOT the same as understanding how to drive accountability and ensuring that accountable behavior is exhibited.
Can you think of a colleague who demonstrated exceptional accountability? What made their efforts extraordinary? What would you do to mimic these behavioral competencies?