We all have a general idea of what accountability at work means, at least on a surface level: You’re hired to do a job. You’re expected to perform certain duties. If you perform those duties, you’re paid. If you don’t perform those duties, you’re reprimanded––or looking for a new place to work.
So, in its most basic form, accountability deals with expectations, rewards, and consequences. But there is more to accountability than that––or at least, there is the potential for more.
When we dig deeper into what accountability actually looks like in an organization beyond merely doing a job and getting a paycheck, most of us recognize it as an official construct of systems and protocols designed to track progress, identify problems, and maintain workflow. It’s also directly tied to performance: When expectations are met or exceeded, someone takes the credit; when performance falls short, someone accepts fault. This kind of systems-driven, credit-assigning accountability is called “performance accountability.” Performance accountability is vital and must be executed well, but it’s actually only half of the accountability equation.
The other half is called “social accountability.”
When at least one person commits to meeting or exceeding the expectations of another, we can create social accountability. It’s not dependent on a systematic, documented process, but on social skills and human investment.
At its core, social accountability is rooted in relationships, communication, self-awareness, and empowerment, which is probably why it’s so frequently neglected. The human side of business is often intimidating. For so long, we’ve been conditioned to ignore it––to separate our human need to connect socially from the workplace. But as leading psychologists such as Matthew Lieberman have suggested, our brains are wired for social connection, and when we neglect that need––in business or elsewhere––it’s not just untapped potential. It’s counter-productive, or even harmful.
To maximize any project’s results, both performance accountability and social accountability must exist. When the people responsible for creating and managing expectations commit to both pieces of accountability, it’s like a turbocharger for the entire team: potential, morale, and performance soar.
There are five simple steps a leader can take to create social accountability. When practiced again and again, these five steps turn into instinctive skills and habits:
- Form a clear expectation. In order for your team to succeed, your expectations must be clear. Clear expectations usually feature several key components, such as timeline and relevance to your organization’s overarching vision.
- Communicate and reach alignment. In order for expectations to be understood, they must be communicated well. There are three steps to successful communication: 1) sharing a compelling why, 2) clearly defining your expectations, and 3) agreeing on a timeline. When we reach alignment, we succeed in creating not just compliance, but complete commitment.
- Create a sense of control. People who feel like they have control over outcomes are much more likely to contribute and act. You must give your team a sense of control over the project’s progress and ultimate results.
- Declare ownership of the outcome. You want for your expectations to stop being exclusively “mine” and to start being inclusively “ours.” Through open exchanges and direct questions, you challenge people to assume ownership of the results you’re striving to achieve––and to feel good about it.
- Verify fulfillment. When the time has come to assess results, you must hold yourself and your team accountable. Whether expectations have been surpassed or far from met, the conversations and reflection that follow are critical.
Over the next few weeks, we will explore these five crucial steps in clarifying detail. Commit to reading each of these short blog posts, and you will emerge with a clear understanding not just of what social accountability is and why it matters, but how to create it––a key part of the transformation to All-In Leadership. Are you All-In?