The word “accountability” or the phrase “being held accountable” conjures up all kinds of emotions in folks – mostly negative ones.
For years I absolutely hated it. I didn’t want anyone telling me what he or she thought was good for me. “Don’t they trust me?” I would think to myself. And, quite honestly, that was the reason. Someone didn’t trust me, so now someone wants to hold me accountable to something. I fought it.
But then something changed. I went to work for an agency where the owners valued accountability – not for the sake of punishment or lack of trust, but to honor the people connected to each other.
I had never thought of accountability that way – as a way to honor another who is involved in the work you are doing.
For example, suppose you are working with a team of folks putting together a solicitation for a large donation from one of your donors. What if one of your teammates kept missing his deadline for getting you the case statement that was critical in the solicitation? It would be frustrating. And it would be dishonoring to all your team members.
However, what if you went into those meetings together, knowing that each of you was being held accountable to your work because, as a team, you need to succeed? To ensure this, you have a system already in place that provides that kind of accountability. Dates have to be met. If dates are not met, proactive communication is mandatory to the entire team. Everyone agrees to this because it honors all members of the group.
That is how you need to look at accountability.
In our business relationship, Richard and I hold each other accountable. Why? Because it honors the other and without it, we would become stagnant and things would not get accomplished.
Unfortunately, Richard and I, along and our Veritus team members, often get pushback from the MGOs we manage because they don’t like to be held accountable. Mostly this is because their history of accountability has been in the form of punishment.
It doesn’t feel good to be punished, even if we deserve it. Now, add more years and a number of experiences to the situation, and the “pushback” we get can be tremendous.
So, our job at this point is to help the MGO feel safe and understand that accountability is not about punishment, but about honoring others who are all counting on us to do what we say we are going to do. And it’s also about honoring yourself.
Here are some truths about accountability that I’ve learned over the years:
- It’s not about whether you are competent or not – Accountability provides you with a structure for feedback and allows you to be held responsible for something. You can be the best at something or have all the knowledge in the world, but you still need accountability to be successful.
- There is suffering involved – When you are accountable to someone or something, you are not free just to be on your own. That requires a little suffering on your part. But that suffering is worth it.
- We are all accountable anyway – Whether we like it or not, each of us is held accountable by someone or a group of people. So instead of resisting it, understand how being held accountable can help you become better at your work and in your life.
- It opens up communication between people – If we are being held accountable to each other, we are forced to talk with one another and become proactive.
- It makes things happen – Things get done when we hold each other accountable. Accountability creates forward motion.
I think that last one is what turns people around in their attitude about accountability. Intellectually and emotionally, I can understand why accountability is good in that it honors people, but when I see that it actually helps me get things done and good things begin to happen, I’m hooked on it!
This is what happens over time with our MGOs. Once MGOs start seeing the success they are having with their caseload because they are now accountable to goals and strategy, they can’t get enough of it.
Don’t resist accountability. In fact, seek it out if you feel you don’t have enough of it in your work. Accountability will help you honor others and allow you to move forward.