I’m glad you’re still reading this. Many people find the word “accountability” so threatening that they don’t even want to think about it.
Let’s start with the basic concept. When somebody says they’re going to do something, if their word is worth anything, they should follow through to the best of their ability. The fact that you’re expecting this means that you’re holding them accountable. If they disappoint you, you’re going to lower your level of trust. If they meet or exceed the expectations they set, your level of trust will increase.
The reason some of us shy away from “accountability” is that the word has been used in reference to expectations you haven’t intentionally set. Your boss tells you that an assignment is due Friday, but perhaps there’s no discussion around that deadline. He holds you accountable for meeting that deadline, but not because you said you could do it – just because that was the stated requirement.
Worse yet, sometimes the requirements aren’t actually stated. Your boss says she needs the TPS report “ASAP”. Perhaps her expectation is that it will be done in an hour, while your interpretation is that it needs to be done in a day.
Clearly we have a recipe for disaster.
There’s a reasonably straightforward way to restore the balance in this situation: Simply state how you are interpreting the requirement, and how you plan to meet it. Up front.
Each response opens up the possibility for a constructive dialog. If there’s misunderstanding, you’ll probably find out quickly. If you need help in certain areas, this is the time to ask.
Of course, it’s quite possible you’ll be given an impossible requirement. In that case, you’ll need to use your best negotiation skills to attempt to arrive at an acceptable compromise.
If you can’t find a compromise, well, at least you know a bit sooner. If you need to work an all-nighter, you’ll know while you still have a chance to do some adjustment and damage control.
These examples happen to highlight accountability for timing and deadlines, but the same principles apply to any other aspect of your work – quality, thoroughness, depth and breadth. When there’s room for interpretation, it’s good to give your response in advance of doing the work.
There’s another benefit to giving a timely response, which is that the other person’s anxiety will be reduced. If I give an assignment to a subordinate, getting no timely response is actually the worst response. I wonder if the message was received. I suspect there may be an attempt to avoid the work. I worry that the assignment may have been misunderstood.
On a related topic, I have had questions about how coaches use the word “accountability.” Part of the value that a coach can add to the relationship is to hold you accountable to following through on actions you’ve created and decisions you’ve made.
If you think about it, though, it’s a little backward. You’re paying the coach, so he or she doesn’t really have any leverage over you. It’s not like there’s a big stick that will beat you up if you fail to follow through.
This is how accountability to a coach works: When you say you’re going to do something, to someone you have a relationship with, and you know that the person is likely to ask you about it in the future, then you hold yourself more accountable. It’s really a tool to help you build integrity with yourself, and that you’re making progress in a direction that’s truly useful.
It’s amazing how well it works. And all based on not wanting to disappoint somebody.
|Carl Dierschow is a Certified Small Fish Business Coach and author of the career management guide, Mondays Stink! 23 Secrets to Rediscover Delight and Fulfillment in Your Work. He is a career coach for those going through interesting transitions, and works with small business owners who need to create breakthroughs in achieving their business goals. Find out more at www.Dierschow.com and www.SmallFish.us.
If you are interested in individual career coaching, group coaching, or other resources which might help you with difficult choices, please contact Carl at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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