July 31 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway
In many organizations, when someone thinks of or hears the word accountability, they imagine a scene where the boss is banging their fist on the table, exclaiming, "We didn't get the results we wanted. Who are we going to hold accountable?!" If this is someone's experience with being held accountable, no wonder the term has a negative connotation.
Accountability can be both reactive and proactive. The consequences of being accountable or not can also be positive (what happens if desirable results or behaviors) and negative (what happens if undesirable results or behaviors) depending on how it is received.
Results Accountability: The focus here is on results. We accomplished the objectives, and the goal was met. The leader shakes the employee's hand and says, "Because you did this, this is why we are celebrating this win. Great job!" Positive results accountability. Conversely, "Because this didn't happen, this is why we didn't meet our goal. What happened?" A better approach to banging a fist on a table… Negative Results Accountable.
Proactive Accountability: The focus here is on behaviors. "We are halfway through the month, and I've noticed you are doing precisely what we agreed to. I'm confident we will hit the target at the end of the month." Positive proactive accountability. Conversely, "We are halfway through the month, and I noticed your commitments to help us reach our target are not being met. What can I do to help you be successful here?" Negative proactive accountability.
In general, I prefer using the term 'proactive accountability' as it defines what true accountability is — making sure someone is doing the things necessary to accomplish the results before checking to see if the results were accomplished. We humans do a better job aligning others to our results expectations than our behavioral expectations. When this happens at work, it is no wonder there is disappointment between boss and employee, and accountability becomes a dirty word. Considering the examples I've shared, how can you clean up accountability in your organization?
"It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable." — Moliere
"Responsibility equals accountability, accountability equals ownership, and a sense of ownership is the most powerful thing a team or organization can have." — Pat Summit
"Once people have a clear idea of what decisions they should and should not be making, holding them accountable for decisions feels fair." — Gary L. Neilson
Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.