Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The true meaning of accountability

By Marisa Geitner, president and C.E.O.

I find myself having a keen awareness of the number of times I hear someone placing blame in the name of accountability.  Not only are they two very different things, placing blame is actually counterproductive to strengthening accountability and improving results -- and blaming often diminishes motivation and  performance.  This misguided strategy is pervasive in our personal and  professional lives and can creep in at a very young age. 

Recently, while watching a basketball game, I couldn’t help but notice the coach yelling at the players on the court and throughout each time out.  The coach rehashed all they hadn’t done or had done “wrong” with clear frustration.  I have sadly become used to the sight of coaches yelling but when I heard another proudly proclaim that “he’s good at holding them accountable,” it made me think.  Accountable to what I wondered? 

Accountable by definition is “subject to the obligation to report, explain, justify.”  Simply stated, others should be encouraged to provide account or explanation for the outcome.  When we are too busy blaming, judging or rehashing the result, we don’t even ask questions, let alone offer others the opportunity to explain.

Now let’s take this a bit deeper. Besides listening for an explanation, are we willing to learn in order to influence future opportunity? Let’s keep going with the basketball experience.  What is usually the first thing you hear a coach or crowd yell once someone misses a rebound?  "Get that rebound!” Or maybe “Box out!”  Well rest assured that’ll do it. Next time they’ll surely remember your directive and get the rebound.  I’m being sarcastic of course. We say those things and react that way because in that moment it feels good to us. It likely has no positive impact on shaping the next event.  The players know they are supposed to rebound the basketball and they are highly motivated to successfully grab the basketball, so why don’t they?  Ask them!  What pulls their attention in the heat of a game?  Knowing how to rebound is only the first step. Knowing how to execute the rebound in every complex scenario that you face in a competitive game is another.  What interferes with each player's ability to call on that knowledge and execute the rebound?  Timing of the jump, balance on one foot versus the other, position of their other teammates?  Lastly, what other competing priorities are they managing in the thick of trying to secure that rebound?  Are they avoiding a push or over the back penalty, ensuring their feet aren’t swept out from under them while they're in the air, positioning themselves down court for the pass following the rebound?  You never know until you ask but I guarantee a better outcome the next time if you coach them proactively from the perspective of their game time reality.  Helping them learn from their own perspective of the game will help them build strategies they can use to navigate the next experience.

Accountability isn’t about placing blame, it’s about supporting one another in delivering on a commitment along with the outcome and the tasks necessary to achieve it.  It comes through clear expectations, measurement against expectation, timely  communication and a review of results.   When done right, it also makes for a better leader, coach and teammate!