Improve Accountability in 3 Swift Steps

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Accountability has been both my best friend and mortal enemy off and on all my life. One month we do great things together. The next month I avoid it like it's got a bad case of something catchy. Yet accountability is a very important metric for maintaining success.

The reason I experienced scholastic failure so often until age 26 was my high tolerance for last-minute performance (also known as a tendency to procrastinate) mixed in with a lack of interest in holding myself accountable.

If you're reading this because you're struggling to deal with someone else's accountability, the same fundamental principles apply. I have intimate knowledge of what it's like to be on either side of the equation. Whether it's your own accountability or someone else's, the issues involved amount to the same beast.

In the interest of brevity (and to avoid using the joy of sharing this as an excuse for not holding myself accountable for work I must do), here are some reasons people (including me) fail to rise to the accountability challenge, followed by three ways to change them.

Related: 4 Steps to Building a Culture of Accountability

Perhaps you really never wanted to do that thing in the first place but now you feel like you have to, so you're avoiding it by hiding out and not showing up to do the work, avoiding any notion of responsibility.

Or the outcome no longer benefits you, so completing the task no longer has personal or professional merit. You're thinking, Why rise to the occasion?

Or maybe you're afraid of something (and you'll have to determine what that is).

Here's what to do to avoid accountability issues like these:

Related: How Peer Advisory Groups Inspire Leaders to Be Accountable

1. Communicate clearly why something needs to get done and align it with a true desire. For example, you need to blog every day because you truly wish to improve your writing and only practice will accomplish this. 

2. Have the risk and reward be related. Perhaps the outcome clearly benefits you or your business but balance it with a real risk. For example, you want to run 5 kilometers. The reward will be your health and the satisfaction of completing a physical goal. Balance this with the torture of having to run a 5-kilometer race with a fit friend as a running partner (since you've both signed up for the same race). There must be an opposing negative in proportion to the positive so as to compel those prone to accountability issues to maintain their commitment. It works only if it is a friend who is a better athlete than you and you will be horribly embarrassed by being dramatically outshown by your friend.

3. Don't ever bypass holding yourself or someone else accountable. In fact, not doing following through is akin to granting permission for the behavior to continue.

If I have an employee who shows up to work five minutes late every day and I do not hold him accountable, well then I have granted him permission to be 5 minutes late every day.

So write up a permission slip and see how you feel handing it to the employee because that's basically what you're doing. I've let things slide to the detriment of my business and other staffers and have learned my lesson.

Whenever I am in doubt, I ask myself, Would I write a permission slip for this action and give it to the party involved. If not, I address the behavior.

If I am "off again" with accountability (which does not happen a lot anymore but still creeps up on me, human as I am), I calculate what I would have to pay someone an hour to do the work I'm avoiding. Then I ask myself if I would pay someone that amount of money to surf Facebook, chat on the phone with a best friend and spend an extra five minutes grabbing a coffee on the way into work?

Usually I have to remind myself that if anyone else were wasting my money or time and not holding himself or herself accountable to the same degree, I would fire that person. Having to fire myself is enough for me to start showing up in full again. It works every time.

I would love to hear about how you hold yourself and those around you accountable or a situation that you're facing in which accountability has reared its ugly head.

Related: Leadership, Accountability and the D-Day Letter Ike Never Sent