“Whenever I say the word “accountability”, my people get nervous. It’s such a powerful word! What can I do to make accountability less frightening and more empowering for everyone?”
Accountability has taken on a meaning that we don’t want to have associated with it. It’s the idea that “I owe you — my value rides on your approval.”
Instead of accountability being “me being accountable to you”, let’s start thinking about accountability being “me being accountable to myself”. How can I make sure I am doing what I need to do in order to be the best person, the best employee that I can be? That’s very different.
Uncover the Deeply Held “Why”
Start by asking your folks what is it they really want to uncover their deeply held why. What is it about this particular task, this particular charge that is deeply important to them? If you can identify that, then you can frame accountability in terms of, “So, employee, how can you best meet those standards, that value, that goal that you are setting for yourself? And how can I help you with that?”
When you can get folks to promise as opposed to being accountable, you are asking them to bring their own ethics and their own values into the work they do. So I really want to encourage you to move away from “how can you be accountable” and more toward “why do you want to be accountable to yourself”.
Incentivize and Gameify
When folks feel like they have accomplished something, there’s a sense of winning, a sense of moving forward. Start to build in ways where they can check in with each other about how they are holding themselves accountable to themselves. You will be more successful in the traditional ways of thinking about accountability, which again, is about one being accountable to another person. So flip it around, incentivize it, and gamify it. For example, you could set up weekly meetings. Get everybody to come to these meetings and report on their accountability to themselves, how well have they done, and even grade themselves.
I’ve had good luck with an accountability partner and an accountability group I’m in right now where we come in and basically say how well we did with the goals and commitments we made. Did I do A+ work? Was it B- work? Was it a C+? Any way that you can build in gamification (like grading) and incentivizing for accountability, you’ll be that much more likely to be successful.
Reframe, rethink and re-empower accountability in a way that works much better than the traditional way. For more on this topic, check out our recent blog post, Accountable to You? No Thanks.