The weather was perfect and the anticipation almost unbearable as the final event progressed – the 4 X 100 relay. Everything was going as planned. Two clean handoffs and a slight lead going into the 3rd and final handoff zone. And, then the unthinkable happened – the baton was dropped trying to make the final exchange. The relay team was disqualified. The State Championship was lost!! Everyone was devastated. Heartache and tons of tears followed. Then the questions came – who was to blame? Who was accountable for this terrible failure and disappointment?
Has this ever happened in your organization? There was a solid, well thought out plan. Resources (time, money, and people) were properly allocated. Team members were committed and put in extra time and effort. And then something ‘unthinkable’ happened and the goal or target was missed. Ultimately, who is blamed? Who is held accountable?
In my consulting practice, I hear more and more organizations talking about and interested in increasing individual accountability. That’s fantastic! But, too many people still believe accountability is simply someone in a superior position holding someone in a ‘lower in position’ responsible. Many times it also includes fear of some type of punishment. This approach negatively impacts trust and teamwork and can even generate undesired behaviors like only telling management what they want to hear.
Here are three coaching tips to consider:
Candidly answer two critical questions. How are mistakes and errors handled in your organization? What happens when goals and/or targets are not met? If there is ‘perceived’ blaming, shaming, lecturing, punishing, threatening, and/or humiliating then accountability will be avoided. If failure is considered fatal for individual performance and or career advancement, then risk taking, innovation, and accountability will suffer.
Broaden criteria for accountability. Consider these four key criteria:
- A personal choice - in making decisions and the natural consequences that follow (good or bad).
- To pro-actively influence - intervening without being prompted. And, everyone (not just leaders) can influence.
- Take ownership - behaviors than exhibit responsibility, initiative, taking charge
- And, deliver on commitments – some are individual like personal attendance; others are organizational like customer service standards
Two years after the traumatic 4 X 100 relay, the community finally celebrated a State High school Track Championship. Many say it all started back on that dreadful day when a simple ‘handoff’ was missed. How the coaching staff handled accountability ‘then’ allowed them to continue to attract talent - drive commitment and effort – and create high performance. A great lesson for all of us!