Accountability is a big word with big scary implications. Think of the millions of dollars of “padding” companies and government agencies put into their numbers each year. Why? Because those managers might be held accountable to hit that goal. That’s why managers make sure their goals are achievable. And by achievable I mean a slam dunk with hardly any effort or change to how the business is being run today.

So what did accountability result in? Nothing. But is that really what the word means? Is that really what we want? Of course not. So let’s redefine accountability.

The new definition of accountability:

Accountability is the responsibility and challenge to perform beyond what anyone thought was possible.

If we make accountability a positive word and add a few key ingredients, we can start to change the behavior of our teams from cautiously “padding” their goals to ultimately achieving their goals.

4 Key Behaviors of the New Accountability

Set expectations based on Wildly Important Goals
You’ve probably heard of WIGs. They are part of Franklin Covey’s 4 Disciplines of Execution. Get your team together to agree on your strategy and what is really important. When everyone is part of the decision making process, even if they don’t agree, they will be bought in and go for bigger goals.

Make your WIGs publicly and widely known
When JFK challenged the nation to reach the moon in less than 10 years, he showed the world the new accountability. A public goal everyone knows about is something no one can hide from. A goal everyone is a part of is a goal that cannot fail. We the people, and you and your people, can accomplish the impossible if you all know and are excited about the goal and held accountable.

Free your team with clear Roles and Responsibilities
The United States Office of Personnel Management surveyed their leaders on accountability. Here’s what they found:

“…63 percent of managers said they were held accountable for the results of their programs, only 36 percent of them said they had the authority they needed to accomplish strategic goals.”

If you’re going to set big goals, you need a strong team. And the team leader must be free to make important decisions. Mistakes are better than inaction so get out of their way and give your leaders the power to achieve great things.

Reward the right behavior first
Results come second and only after people and processes do the right things. Reward collaboration, innovation, and trying new ideas. Reward results as well but only if the results were achieved with the right behaviors.

Good Leader – The leader walks the process daily, working with the operators to understand root causes of problems. Yield increases 30%. All employees are mentored and learn how to solve problems. They continue to solve problems when the manager leaves and yield climbs another 30%.

Bad Manager – The bull in a china shop. Manager shows up, starts making changes, and tells everyone how to do it right, or else. Yield increases 30% but morale declines, turnover skyrockets by 25%. Employees who stay don’t understand the “why” behind the new process. New employees are brought in and yield falls back to previous levels or worse.

Let’s free ourselves from the fear of old school accountability and hold ourselves to the new definition, striving to achieve what no one thought was possible. It takes courage and a culture of respect for those who dare to reach higher.

More resources:

How to Create Accountability that Empowers Your Team

Strategy: Do Your Top Leaders & Employees Know Yours?