Accountability is an interesting word. On one hand, it has a positive connotation as something that helps grow a thriving company, but it can also have a negative connotation. It can be associated with blame, punishment and negative consequences. It can also be confused with responsibility. You already know accountability is a buzzword word that’s thrown around like crazy in leadership seminars and the coaching world, but I wanted to really dive in to the importance of accountability as it relates to leadership.

Let’s start with an overall understanding of accountability versus responsibility, since those are terms that tend to be used interchangeably, but are actually very different. Accountability is something that cannot be delegated as a leader of an organization, and only one person is truly accountable when all is said and done. Responsibility, however, can be delegated to one or more people, and is more task-oriented and action-based.

Let me give you an example: Any given company has team members who are responsible for upholding their job duties, performing tasks and doing the things that are delegated to them. The owner of the company is the one who is ultimately accountable for what they do. If a plumber makes a mistake and a client’s home floods (let’s hope this doesn’t happen), who is held accountable? The owner of the company.
The tech might be responsible for the flood, but they aren’t the one who is going to pay for the damages. You didn’t personally perform the work, but you are still held accountable by your clients to take care of the situation. (You can see why the word “accountability” can have a negative association).

Now, let’s look at the positive side of accountability and how we can use it to our advantage as leaders.
Accountability coaching is actually one of our popular offerings at The Blue Collar Success Group because having someone to not only guide you, but also to make sure you are taking ownership of what you say you’re going to get accomplished, is very effective. Holding yourself accountable to results isn’t always effective, because the consequences of not doing something are different than having someone to report to.
In a leadership role, however, self-accountability is crucial to building a positive, productive culture. In order to develop stronger self-accountability, focus on always leading by example, admitting when you’ve made a mistake, being honest and always considering the consequences of your actions.

 

Developing a culture of ownership

You might’ve heard of “developing a culture of accountability,” but actual accountability within a team is just a (very important) mindset, because top leaders/owners are the ones who are ultimately accountable for the actions of the team. What’s truly impactful for your business is developing a culture of ownership. When you develop a culture of ownership, team members have a sense of pride and commitment to the company. Here are a few ways to foster that type of culture:

  • Be clear about expectations, define responsibilities and eliminate unknowns as much as possible. Your team members can’t take ownership for something they don’t understand, can they? People want to know what is expected of them so they understand what it takes to succeed in the workplace. That’s why it’s not only important to set goals and share goals, but also maintain a sense of consistency surrounding those goals and expectations, which brings me to my second point.

  • Systematize, systematize, systematize. I wrote the word three times because it’s that important. Effective systems are one of the best ways to foster a higher level of personal responsibility within your company and also minimize misunderstandings. When there are specific ways of doing things, it’s easier to lead.

Each company uses their systems in a somewhat unique way, but whatever you do, don’t get caught up in thinking systems are set in stone. Sometimes they need to be altered because of new approaches or innovations; just remember to communicate any changes and explain the “why” behind them.

Build your systems and procedures with the end objectives in mind, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from anyone who will be impacted by the system. Building, documenting and executing systems is a group effort, but ultimately serve to make leadership responsibilities less stressful.

  • Encourage open communication. It’s important to not only give feedback, but also ask for feedback (and actually listen, don’t just ask as a formality). Team members who feel heard and feel their opinions matter are more likely to stay with a company and maintain a higher level of ownership of their responsibilities and the overall success of the business.

Open communication isn’t always easy, and you might hear things you don’t want to hear sometimes, but what your team members are voicing is their reality. You might need to sift through some whiny comments here and there, but some of your team members might have great ideas about how to improve efficiency or make the client experience better, but nobody has asked them to voice their opinions.

Encourage, discuss and reward new ideas and creativity. Your team members are the ones who represent your brand every day and interact with your clients, so make sure you are listening to what they are saying.

  • Lead by example. This goes back to admitting mistakes and being honest. If that’s what you want from your team, that’s who you need to be, too. You will be more respected as a leader, and team members will be more likely to hold themselves to a higher standard if that’s what you are doing yourself. Inspire your team to be better, do the best job possible and own up to mistakes. People will not only trust you more, but it will encourage team members to trust each other more and work as a cohesive team toward a collective goal.

A culture of ownership truly starts at the top. If you aren’t being transparent and taking ownership, how can you expect the same of your team members?
“Do as I say, not as I do,” is not an effective leadership mindset; always pay close attention to the example you are setting for your team, down to the smallest detail, and be consistent with your words and actions.

  • Implement effective, transparent reporting. The previous four items are all represented in numbers and reporting. I’m not saying your team needs to be aware of every number. However, openly communicating and reporting helps team members know if benchmarks are being met and systems are working effectively.

People take more ownership when they feel like they contribute to the success of the company, and when leaders communicate about the true status of the business, they are more trusted and respected. Reporting and profitability ultimately hold leaders and owners accountable more than anything else, too.

When team members take responsibility and ownership for their positions, your clients are served better, leadership is less of a rollercoaster ride, and there is an overall positive, supportive energy within your company. When you lead with accountability in mind, you can truly start to develop the type of company that will set you free: The type with a culture of ownership.