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The ULTIMATE ADVANTAGE Series!

The Specifics of Accountablity
by Lee J. Colan, Ph.D.

Creating accountability is one of the most common challenges for leaders of organizations, teams, communities and families. Whether you lead many or you lead only yourself, accountability for results separates the best from the rest.

I hear the word accountability spoken dozens of times during planning sessions with my clients. It is something every leader wants more of from his or her team, so we talk about it a lot. The problem with accountability is similar to the problem with change. It's easy to talk about in the third person ("They need to be more accountable"), but it gets uncomfortable to mention in the first person. When is the last time you heard someone say, "I really need to be more accountable for my own performance"?

Accountability, at its core, is really about specificity - specific language, specific expectations and specific consequences.

Specific Language - The power of your actions is preceded by the power of your words. Speaking with specificity creates a sense of accountability and commitment. The challenge is to consciously avoid using accountability killers. These words sap energy and commitment from your interactions, and ultimately, your actions. Eliminate these accountability killers from your vocabulary:

  • "We'll see."
  • "I'll try.
  • "If I have the time for this..."
  • "I will get back to you on that."
  • "Maybe."
  • "I'll do my best."

You can build accountability for others (and yourself) by using these phrases:

  • "Yes", "No", or "I am not sure, but I will give you a firm answer by noon tomorrow."
  • "I will own this."
  • "I will make the time get this done."
  • "I promise to close the loop by noon tomorrow so we can proceed."
  • "By Friday, March 18 at 2:00 pm Central."
  • "I will make it happen."

My favorite line from all six Star Wars episodes is from Yoda (yes, I've seen them all ... many times!). Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no try." If this little, green 900-year-old Jedi Master can speak the language of accountability, so can we. Specific language leads to specific expectations.

Specific Expectations - Blurry expectations lead to blurry places, so you must clearly and specifically define the actions, timing and results you expect from your team (and ourselves). You should be able to easily agree to the answer to this question: "How will I know if I have met expectations?" The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. When we start relying on other's perceptions of our own expectations, we slide down the dark side of the accountability slope. I use a simple tool - the 3W form - to capture and track accountabilities from meetings and conversations.

Specific Consequences - This is the Achilles Heel of accountability. The key here is to focus on the big picture vs. focusing on the rewards and punishments of positive and negative performance. In other words, communicate to your team the implications of their performance on the team, the organization, the customer, the shareholders and the community. Help your team understand the specific impact of their performance. When they see how they can help or hinder each of their constituents, then personal consequences of their performance become self-evident. Their performance is ultimately an external reflection of their internal commitment to perform.

Boost your team's accountability by being more specific today (that's Tues, March 15, 2011 AD)!

Accelerate Winning Results and Relationships for your team with our Accountability workshop. Learn more.