Bob Dukiet, my college basketball coach, didn’t teach me new ways to dribble, pass, or shoot. But he sure taught me a Master’s-level course in accountability. One of his frequently repeated aphorisms was, “Point the thumb, not the finger,” his way of saying you should take responsibility instead of blaming others. And for the three years I played for him, the white board is his office was emblazoned with this all caps quote: “EXCUSES ARE FOR DOGS.” I’m assuming it was a dry erase board, but nobody dared tamper with what Coach Dukiet wrote.
That was 25 years ago, and accountability is still top-of-mind for me today because, at the request of some Vantiv, now Worldpay partners, I’ve conducted Accountability Workshops for their teams. We’ve had fun, but the conversations are uncomfortable at times. The phrase “Hold them accountable” has a negative connotation, and in the minds of many, the word “accountability” equals blame. By the time the workshop concludes, everyone in the room understands that accountability can be painful, but it’s foundational to a healthy organization. Keep reading for highlights from the workshops that I think can help your organization.
Awesome Accountability Quotes
Among the pre-workshop reading material is a list of quotes related to accountability. Some of the groups’ favorite quotes are:
- “We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and approach.” Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
- “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” Jim Rohn and Chris Widener, Twelve Pillars
- “I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a transformer in any situation, any organization. Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf.” The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey
- “Adults address reality and deal with it. Adults don’t argue with reality. Adults remain calm in the face of adversity or failure – and they simply try again.” Brad Hams, Ownership Thinking
3 Accountability Building Blocks
Accountability works best if the actions and outcomes are absolutely clear, commonly understood, and individually assigned. Accountability becomes dysfunctional if the direction you give goes something like, “Maybe someone needs to take care of that stuff ASAP.” To achieve accountability, you need to:
- Stand firmly for what is right (outcomes and actions)
- Demand and expect the desired outcomes and actions
- Work with your co-worker(s) or customer(s) to help them achieve the actions and outcomes, but don’t do the job for them
Don’t misinterpret those first two points and think you have to be mean or pound your fists to hold others accountable. Instead, follow this guidance from legendary basketball coach and leadership guru John Wooden, “Give correction without causing resentment.”
Obviate: Funny Word, Serious Accountability Tool
You’ve obviated before; you just don’t know that you have. The last time you looked out the window, saw dark clouds, and grabbed a jacket or umbrella when you left your home – you were obviating. Obviate, pronounced OB-vee-ate, is to anticipate a problem prior to it occurring and then take action to prevent it from happening. Obviating is key to accountability. You’ll achieve the results you desire faster if you can anticipate and prevent the likely roadblocks you, your co-workers, and your customers will encounter. Obviating prevents any problem (even potential or small) from becoming a major issue.
Most people aren’t generally inclined to think about problems. They say, “We’ll see how it goes” or “I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.” When you obviate, you may be criticized for being negative. In time, as you anticipate and solve problems, others will realize the value of obviating and appreciate your actions.
Don’t Skip the Failure Analysis
We all make mistakes, but we don’t all learn from our mistakes. Learnings come from us conducting a candid Failure Analysis to understand what happened; determining how to avoid repeating the mistake; and holding everyone involved accountable for improved performance. A Failure Analysis, also called a “Root-Cause Analysis,” is the process of collecting and analyzing data to determine the cause(s) of a failure with the goal of determining corrective actions.
If you search the Internet for an easy-to-read “how to” guide for conducting a Failure Analysis, you’re going to end up both disappointed and confused. Failure Analysis is presented as a multi-step, overly complex scientific formula instead of a quest to simply understand (1) What happened? and (2) How can we ensure that won’t happen again?
When I was President of Business Solutions Magazine, we launched an events division with the goal of providing quality education to VARs and ISVs and creating an engaged audience for our sponsors. We were determined to learn from our mistakes and make each successive show better than the prior event. Our execution plan was simple. Every team member attending the show was on the lookout for what they saw/heard we could do better, and each was responsible for jotting down those observations during the event. A week after the event’s conclusion (which was immediately after we closed our attendee survey), we met as a group to review our notes and the survey results. Our Events Director ran point on each takeaway to ensure improvements were made prior to our next conference.
Fancy? No. Effective? Heck, yes. Not only did the quality of our core event improve because we avoided repeating mistakes, we also spun off two more channel conferences that were both popular and profitable.
Holding Myself Accountable: Workshop Attendee Feedback
At the end of each Accountability Workshop, I don’t pat myself and on the back and say, “That was perfect – way to go, Jimmy!” I send a survey to the attendees, including the VAR/ISV owner, asking for specific feedback on what went well and how future workshops can be improved. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
- “Great way to bring everyone together and discuss topics that can improve our personal and professional levels.”
- “I thought the course was good reinforcement of our culture of accountability and did a good job of explaining the ‘whys.’”
- The most valuable part of this course was:
- “Going over actual company issues in an open forum.”
- “Understanding that you must be accountable for the job you are doing and that you should not wait for things to happen.”
- “Staff conversation after the workshop. It triggered some internal reflections.”
- This course would have been more helpful if:
- “We have it broken down and do mini projects in teams.”
- “Scheduling the first and second workshops closer together.”
- “We had a list of topics to review ahead of time so we could have been better prepared for the questions.”
To that last point, I had sent that team a list of discussion topics when we originally scheduled the workshop – about six weeks before the actual session. But that attendee’s survey feedback showed me I needed to communicate differently, so I added to my workshop checklist a step where I email discussion topics again three business days before our session the questions are fresh in everyone’s mind. Yes, accountability can bruise your ego, but it also improves your outcomes.
The workshops I’ve offered through Vantiv’s reseller and ISV advisory services – I’ve also hosted workshops on Customer Service, Perfecting Perseverance, and Communication – are often the highlight of my work week. I’m happy to offer these staff professional development sessions to qualified Vantiv/Worldpay partners. If you would like to take advantage of these services, please contact me.