“We sucked. We’ve been terrible, starting with me. It starts with me….”
This comment, made by baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez, means more than just an athlete’s words to a reporter. Alex’s words and attitude express the opposite of something lacking today in many workplaces: accountability.
Imagine a CEO or boss saying this to his firm’s customer who just received poor service; “We really messed up! Our service is lousy, and I know we can do better. Great service starts with me. From this moment, I will strive to serve you better next time.” Imagine a CEO telling all the employees; “I will do what I must to help you do your job better even if it means I fire myself.”
If you can see your CEO or yourself saying these things, congratulations! You work for an organization that values accountability. If, instead you would hear words like; “Who messed up? He either does better next time or I’ll find someone who will!” This is clear proof to me: your organization lacks accountability.
What is Accountability?
Most people mistake it for responsibility. Being responsible is working only up to the minimum of standards. Being accountable, on the other hand, means going out of your way to see that every customer, coworker, and stakeholder is receiving value from your efforts. When things go wrong instead of trying to find who is at fault, the accountable employee, manager, or executive will immediately focus on; “What do I need to do to make this better?” In organizations that value accountability, this is everyone’s motto, from top to bottom.
Alex Rodriguez’s comments are significant because when I am being accountable to you, my customer and when things go wrong, the first place I look is at my own actions. Then, after acknowledging that great service starts with me, I make the changes necessary to ensure that I deliver what WE (the firm) promise to you. My boss looks at her actions and decisions to discover what she must do differently to ensure that she and I deliver to you what WE promise.
Accountability is like quality—we know it when we don’t see it! The usual reason for weak accountability is that your employee is penalized for doing good work or rewarded for doing substandard work. The next time you receive poor service and complain about it, watch the reactions of both the employee and manager. If they play the “blame game,” know that their accountability is weak or missing. One of the quickest ways to improve accountability is to only do business with companies where accountability is valued and practiced, and where the employees are rewarded and recognized for valuing your business.