Most people resist the word “accountability.” This poor term has been so beaten and battered over the last 20 years that nobody wants to talk about it anymore – much less be held accountable for something.
But I’m going to take this head-on.
To be accountable means that people expect that you’ll do what you’re expected to do. You said you’d pick up the kids at 6:00, so you show up at the right time and the right place. People can count on you.
Without this, how would society function? If nobody follows through on the promises they make, how does anything work?
The problem is that we’ve been shifting the focus. Rather than following through on your own promises, we’re worrying more about living up to OTHERS’ expectations. When those expectations are unclear or even unstated, you’re going to get frustrated and stressed out.
But accountability is a good thing. You want to have your word stand for something. You want people to trust you.
The solution to this conflict is amazingly simple: When you’re uncomfortable with being held accountable for something, work to (1) understand and (2) re-negotiate the expectations.
OK, the theory is simple, but it’s hard to do.
Let’s say that you’ve suddenly discovered that your boss expects you to have those TPS reports done by noon every Friday. It might have been nice to know this in advance, rather than getting yelled at on Friday afternoon.
Question one: What’s the expectation? You’re going to have to ask her what she expects, and what other hidden requirements might be coming along with it. Is there a particular format required? Other people that need to be copied on the reports?
Question two: Is it something you can commit to? If you don’t get the required data until noon, it’s going to be impossible to do your work on time. In that case, you’ll have to relax the deadline, or get what you need earlier. In either case, it’s going to require some re-negotiation with your boss.
You may even have to ask for her help.
But that’s OK, because it’s what will help her to reach an agreement that both of you can be comfortable with. It’s better than committing to something that you know you can’t deliver, because then BOTH of you are going to feel bad about the result. It’s better to have the discussion now.
Well, not while she’s yelling at you on Friday afternoon. Maybe it’s better to both cool down for a bit so you can have a more rational conversation.
While you’re figuring out how to fix this problem, make sure you do your best to uncover a solution. This can take many forms:
- You can get the work done by 2:00, on a reliable basis, if it’s not really needed until then.
- You can get the reports by 12:00, if the boss helps you to resolve the problem of not having information soon enough.
- You can get SOME of the report done by noon, maybe enough to be useful, and then have the rest by 2:00.
- You can have the report done by noon if you can delay some of the other things you’re working on Friday morning.
Notice that each of these involves a bit of negotiation. So before you know which might be the best approach, it’s good to know what the constraints and needs are.
Then, once you’ve negotiated an agreement, have your boss hold you accountable. That’s a good thing. You want her to trust you for your word. That’s the power of accountability.
by Carl Dierschow