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Increase Accountability in the Workplace – It’s Up to You

Stuff happens. People won’t give you what you need to complete projects. Things will break. And you will look bad. When breakdowns happen, I always ask myself, “What could I have done to prevent this situation?” or “What did I do to help create this situation?”

It may sound odd that I always look at myself when breakdowns occur, even when it’s someone else who didn’t do her job, but it’s just easier. I can’t control anyone else. But I can control me (admittedly, some days I do a better job at this than others). When I can identify something I could have done to make a situation go differently, I feel more in control – aka better.

accountability in the workplace

It’s like getting off a highway with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Your alternate route may take longer, but at least you’re moving. You feel like you’re doing something and thus have more control. Taking responsibility for everything that happens to you is similar. When you’re accountable, you can do something to improve your situation. When someone else is accountable, you’re at the mercy of other people and have very little control.

There are, of course, exceptions to the practice that “we’re always accountable.” Terrible acts of violence, crime, and illness happen to people, about which they have no control. But in general, in our day-to-day lives, there is typically something we did to contribute to a bad situation or something we can do to improve it.

Here are four practices for improving difficult situations, even when you didn’t create the mess (alone).

1)  Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask more questions. If you’re not clear about what someone is expecting from you, ask. You’re responsible for doing good work, regardless of the type of direction you receive.

2)  Increasing accountability in the workplace: Tell people what you think they’re expecting and what you’re planning to do, to ensure everyone’s expectations are aligned. Clarifying expectations beats doing weeks’ worth of work, only to discover what you created isn’t what someone else had it mind.

3)  Increasing accountability in the workplace: Ask for specific feedback as projects progress. Don’t wait until the end of a project to find out how you performed.

4)  Increasing accountability in the workplace: Say “thank you” to whatever feedback you receive versus defending yourself. People will be pleasantly surprised and their upset will dissipate more quickly. That could sound like, “That’s good feedback. I’m sorry that was your experience. Thank you for telling me.”

5)  Increasing accountability in the workplace:  Admit when you make a mistake or when you wish you had done something differently. Don’t wait for someone to tell you. Saying, “I’m sorry. How can I make this right with you?” goes a long way.

I am always asking these questions:

“What could I have done differently?”

“What did I do to contribute to this situation?”

“What can I do now to make this situation better?”

And I encourage you to do the same, even when someone else drops the ball. You can’t control others, but you can control you. And your happiness and success is your responsibility.

accountability in the workplace

About 

Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at www.candidculture.com.

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5 Responses to “Increase Accountability in the Workplace – It’s Up to You”

  1. Debra Yoshimura says:

    Shari,

    Thanks for a great reminder that we are in control.

  2. Emily Ewing says:

    Shari, are you in my brain? I ask because this is absolutely what I need to be reminded of right now. THANK YOU!!

  3. Catherine Anani says:

    Shari, once again you nailed it! I feel like I get it but need to share it with some of the people I work with. I just don’t know how they will take it.

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