Accountable to You? No Thanks!

by | Feb 8, 2023 | blog | 0 comments

My CEO stood up at the front of the room and said to the entire organization, “A goal for all of us this year is ‘accountability’. We will set up formal procedures to ensure that your manager and colleagues can depend on you.”

At my table, with my other management colleagues, there was a murmur of disappointment and a sigh of frustration.

“Here we go, again,” said one of my colleagues.

That was the first time I had ever the term “accountability” used as a performance measure in my organization. It was not the first time for my managerial colleagues – they had heard this carrot-and-stick approach before – and hated it.

For them, “accountability” was a term that smacked of micromanagement and formal performance evaluation. It was fear-inducing.

What a shame.

When my CEO spoke of accountability, they used it to describe performance as pitted against another person’s (or group’s) expectations of us.

“I am accountable to YOU – with the commitments I am making to you.”

In this framework, my value and contribution are measured against what you want and need from me. If I don’t deliver on my commitments, I have failed in my accountability to you. I am failing you. Any retributions, punishments, or “I’m disappointed” feedback from you is deserved. I have not held up my part of the agreement I made with you.

It’s time to rethink “accountability” – time to move away from your accountability to another person(s) and instead move to accountability as a motivational strategy for our own personal growth and performance excellence.

“I am accountable to ME – to the commitments I am making to myself.”

Try this:

1) Make a commitment to yourself. “This week, I will _______________.”

Examples might be:

“This week I will exercise 30 minutes every day.”

“This week I will read 10 pages in my book every day.”

“This week I will give at least five pieces of feedback to my team.”

💥 PRO TIP: Whatever you decide, make your accountability goal as SMART* as possible.

*SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timebound

2) Share your commitment with one other person. “My accountability goal this week is to _________.” Be clear about the commitment and describe your plan for meeting that commitment.

3) And then lastly, this is the most important step. Ask your accountability partner to support you in keeping yourself accountable to yourself.

Your partner doesn’t need to do anything else other than hear you when you’re sharing your commitment – and then agree to hear you later, when you’re reporting to them on how you did with your accountability goal.

When you do this – when you decide that you are holding yourself accountable to the commitment that you make to yourself – you are so much more likely to be successful in those commitments. You are INTERNALIZING that commitment.

On the other hand, when we look to others as the source of motivation to meet our commitment we are EXTERNALIZING the commitment. There’s nothing wrong with that, but without internalizing the commitment – without being super clear on the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) factor of the commitment – we are weakening our resolve and the powerful intrinsic motivation we need to be successful.

💡IDEA: I’ve had enormous success with coaching and supporting client accountability groups where we check in daily/weekly on commitments that we make to ourselves. We check in with absolute honesty on how well we did with meeting our commitments. We grade ourselves (“I give myself a B+ this week because…”) and we ask for support from each other in more effectively meeting the commitment. The very act of just speaking to the commitments – saying them aloud – holding ourselves accountable to ourselves and not each other is powerful and inspiring.

So, the next time you or your team are considering “accountability” as an operating value for your work, consider how you can make accountability less of a word that invites trepidation (i.e., I’m accountable to YOU) – and instead becomes a word that invites personal commitment and resolve (i.e., I’m accountable to ME). Being accountable to oneself is a powerful reframe and motivator for the commitments we make. It taps into our deeply held reservoir of wanting to be better in our lives and work without putting the onus on another person to reward and punish us. We instead do that for ourselves.

How can you better hold yourself accountable to YOU?

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.