The View from HR

Accountability, clearly defined goals are key to any project’s success

CorrespondentOctober 5, 2013 

“We” is a small word with a big reach. “We” can be you and me or a stadium full of fans. “We” is inclusive but very dangerous as a management tool.

I recently heard management consultant Kathleen Kelly present her ideas on bringing accountability to organizational culture. One reason for lack of accountability is the we-meeting. You know the one: “We need a new process for handling customer service issues.” Lots of discussion follows, but no clear direction is given, nor is any responsibility taken. What are the chances big problems will get solved?

Accountability failure also comes from the volunteer who says: “I’ll get something done” or “we’ll see what I can do” and even “I’ll take that on.” Some of these phrases sound like commitment, but actual results usually fall short. When these mindsets do not make room for accountability, you are just one roadblock or distraction away from derailment of your plans for success.

It turns out that accountability is a rather inflexible beast that demands certain parts coming together to create a whole and achieve a good end result.

The ‘before’ phase

Accountability cannot exist unless responsibility is clearly assigned and accepted. The closer to 100-percent responsibility for the outcome is taken, the better. Author Linda Galindo believes so strongly in the importance of individual acceptance that she wrote “The 85% Solution,” which stresses that unless an individual carries 85 percent or more of the responsibility for an outcome, their choices, actions and behaviors along the way will not produce success.

Responsibility does not mean actually undertaking every conceivable necessary activity. It does mean, however, adopting a mindset where leveraging the good and overcoming the bad to meet end goals are a personal obligation. A “we-meeting” never meets this standard.

The ‘during’ phase

The during (or doing) phase is all about self-control and self-empowerment. People who own less than 85 percent of the responsibility fold quickly when hurdles get in their way. Doing the work requires an alignment of attitude, management of time and the purposeful use of words such as “no” and “realistic.”

The during phase works best with written expectations of yourself and others. Clarity around the task, the outcome, the actions, the due dates and the impact of success or failure – all are critical to an actual agreement guiding productive action.

The ‘after’ phase

True accountability is the personal willingness to answer for outcomes after the fact. This may include looking back over what happened, how problems were solved and what will be different next time. Ideally, there is a celebration of success. Just as useful, there should be acknowledgment of any failure. The point is that the end result is personal to the one with 85 percent or more responsibility. Accountability shares credit but never places blame or makes excuses.

Yes, teams can share accountability when each member accepts 100 percent responsibility for the overall result in their own minds. Person A may not own Task 1, but Person A should challenge the status of Task 1 before it causes the team’s project to fail.

Accountability should be integrated into every step of a project. Maintaining clearly defined goals from beginning and taking more than 85 percent ownership are critical in forging a path to success.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www .capital .org .

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