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Accountability 1984!

Yes – that’s me, I was 19.

It was November 1984 and I was in my first leadership role, working in Luton, England. Every month our team would meet together and the principle of accountability was front and centre.  We held each other responsible for the success and failures of the month gone by. As an extremely young and enthusiastic team leader, I decided that I’d spice up the accountability reports! Not only did I hire an American Footballers costume, but I adopted the hype and persona of a typical player! Yes, hard to believe that mild mannered old me, has an extrovert crazy streak running through me (thanks dad!). Subsequently, I recall (and my journal entries confirm) that the monthly reporting session was a tremendous success, even although the numbers and KPI’s themselves weren’t the best!

Our Actions

Through many experiences over numerous years and in a multitude of leadership roles I’ve served in since then, I’ve learned all too well, that “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Moliere.  Actions or lack of action even, almost always have consequences.

The dictionary defines accountability as: “Someone who is accountable is completely responsible for what they do and must be able to give a satisfactory reason for it.” Accountability then has to do with one’s exercising his own will in making decisions and following a course of conduct. It implies self-initiative and a measure of self-reliance. But it requires more than the ability to act for oneself. It must be guided by a knowledge of true principles.

In my home, family, community and business life, I have learned that true principles of accountability, are essential for success. So, what are these guiding principles of accountability?

Take Ownership.

  • No matter whether you succeed or fail, it is much, much better to take ownership of the responsibilities given to you. Simply stated, people want to know who is responsible for certain actions and who is accountable for the consequences of these actions. I’ve failed on numerous occasions, but I can also choose to pick myself up, dust myself down and get on with starting over.

Build Trust. 

  • Little by little, day by day, follow up on actions, be responsible, live your personal values and do what you say you are going to do.

Be Honest. 

We live in the most difficult of times and also the most amazing of times. It is absolutely critical to be truthful, honest, moral and ethical in all of your dealings at home, at work and in the community. To be anything different will cause you grief, heartache, misery, pain, leading ultimately to failure and despair.

Have Fun. 

  • No matter how difficult the challenges may become (and oftentimes they will), carry with you a sense of humour that will allow you to see the bright side of things even on the darkest of days.

Be Humble. 

  • In a recent article Humility vs Pride I suggested that “Humility is selfless not selfish. In fact I believe that humility is being authentic without any pretence or arrogance. It is really about being true to yourself and knowing your limitations, from the inside out.”  see – https://www.darylwatson.org/2019/05/13/leadership-essentials-humility-vs-pride/  I believe that a humility builds loyalty and responsibility.

Take Time. 

  • The most effective accountability moments are held one by one. Whether that is with your children in a personal interview, or with your boss or a subordinate in an important conversation. Be aware of the importance of taking time to do that. In Paterson etal’s “Crucial Conversations” there are numerous tips and ideas about how to make the most of those critical accountability moments.

My early attempts at motivational accountability in 1984, taught me valuable lessons about being present, in the moment and having some fun at the same time. Throughout the ensuing years, I’ve had to sit through some pretty tedious accountability interviews and meetings, some of my own doing too (thankfully only a few!)

I’ve found that consistently following these simple guiding principles will build great relationships over the long term.  In closing remember this quote from Thomas S. Monson; “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates!”

Responsibility

I love this true story shared by Lynn G. Robbins recently, some great lessons about Taking Responsibility.

“In 1983 a few partners and I started a new ­company that taught time-management seminars and created and sold day planners.

For corporate seminars, we sent our consultants to the client’s headquarters, where they taught at the corporate training facilities. Prior to the seminar, two employees in our distribution centre would prepare and ship several boxes of training materials, such as the day planners, binders, and forms. Also included was a participant’s seminar guidebook of around a hundred pages with quotes, fill-in-the blanks, graphs, and illustrations.

The two distribution centre employees would normally send the seminar shipment ten days before the seminar. At the time that the following incident occurred, we were teaching around 250 seminars each month. With so many seminar shipments, these two employees would often commit errors, such as not shipping sufficient quantities or omitting certain materials or not shipping on time. This became an irritating and often embarrassing frustration for the consultants.

When these problems occurred, the seminar division would file a complaint with me, as the distribution centre was one of my responsibilities. When I spoke with these two employees about errors and system improvements, they never wanted to accept responsibility for the errors. They would blame others, saying things like, “It’s not our fault. The seminar division filled out the Seminar Supplies Request form incorrectly, and we sent the shipment exactly according to their specifications. It’s their fault. You can’t blame us!” Or they might say, “We shipped it on time, but the freight company delivered it late. You can’t blame us!” Another excuse was, “The binder subsidiary packaged the individual seminar kits with errors, and we shipped the kits as they were given to us. It’s their fault.” It seemed these two employees were never responsible for the errors, and so the errors continued.

Then something critical happened. The director of training for a large multinational corporation attended one of our seminars and was so thrilled with it that she invited us to teach a pilot seminar to its fifty or so top executives. On the day of the seminar, our consultant arrived and opened the boxes of materials and discovered that the seminar guidebooks were missing. Without the seminar guidebooks, how would the participants follow along and take notes? Their training director was panic-stricken. Our consultant did the best he could by making sure each participant was given a pad of paper on which to take notes throughout the day, and the seminar turned out reasonably well, even without the guidebooks.

Extremely embarrassed and angry, their training director called our seminar division and said, “You will never teach here again! How could you have made such an embarrassing and inexcusable error with our pilot seminar?”

An upset senior vice president of our seminar division called me and said, “This is the last straw. We are about to lose a million-dollar account because of the distribution centre’s errors. We simply can’t tolerate any more errors!”

As one of the owners of the company, I couldn’t tolerate such errors either. At the same time, I did not want to see these two breadwinners fired. After pondering possible solutions, I decided to implement an incentive system to motivate these two men to be more careful. For each seminar shipped correctly, they would receive one additional dollar, or a possibility of an extra $250 each month—hopefully enough to focus their attention on quality. However, if they made one error, a one-dollar penalty wasn’t much of a loss. I therefore decided to also include two $100 bonuses for no errors. With the first error they not only lost one dollar but also the first $100 bonus. If they made a second error, they lost the second $100 bonus.

I also told these employees, “If there is an error, you will lose your bonus, regardless of where that error originates. You are 100 percent responsible for that shipment.”

“Well, that’s not fair,” they responded. “What happens if the seminar division fills out the Seminar Supplies Request form incorrectly and, not knowing, we send the shipment with ‘their’ errors?”

I said, “You will lose your bonus. You are 100 percent responsible for that shipment’s success.”

“That’s not fair! What happens if we send the shipment on time but the freight company delivers it late?”

“You will lose your bonus. You are 100 percent responsible.”

“That’s not fair! What happens if the binder division commits errors in prepackaging the individual seminar kits? You can’t blame us for their mistakes!”

“You will lose your bonus,” I once again responded. “You are 100 percent responsible for that shipment’s success. Do you understand?”

“That isn’t fair!!”

“Well, it may not seem fair, but that’s life. You will lose your bonus.”

What I did was eliminate the anti-­responsibility list as an option for them. They now understood that they could no longer blame others, make excuses, or justify errors—even when they were right and it was someone else’s fault!

What happened next was fascinating to observe. When they would receive an order from the seminar division, they would call the seminar division to review the form item by item. They took responsibility for correcting any errors committed by the seminar division. They began to read the freight company’s documents to make sure the correct delivery date was entered. They began to mark the cardboard shipping boxes “one of seven,” “two of seven,” etc., with each box’s contents written on the outside of the box. They began sending shipments three or four days ­earlier than they had in their previous routine. A few days before the seminar they would call the client company to verify receipt of the shipment and the contents. If they had somehow omitted any materials, they had three or four extra days now to send missing items by express shipment. Errors finally stopped happening, and the employees began to earn their bonuses month after month. It was a life-changing experience for them to learn firsthand the power, control, and reward of being 100 percent responsible.

What these two employees learned is that when they blamed someone else, they were surrendering control of the shipment’s success to ­others—such as the seminar division or the freight company. They learned that excuses keep you from taking control of your life. They learned that it is self-defeating to blame others, make excuses, or justify mistakes—even when you are right! The moment you do any of these self-defeating things, you lose control over the positive outcomes you are seeking in life.”

There are so many lessons to be learned from this simple story.  Why not start by applying a few of them today.