Accountability is a Skill, not a Value

June 14, 2013

If someone says they will do something and they don’t, then the result can be a lot of hurt. If you think of any time you’ve been hurt, I’m sure it was when your expectation was not met.

If you have an organization made up of people who do not do what they say they will do, then everything is dysfunctional. So it’s understandable when leaders want to institute “accountability” as a core value. But there’s a problem with that.

Values are based on what people value. You either value it or you don’t. It’s based on desire. But honestly, no one seeks accountability. We may like accountability because it helps us reach our goals. But in truth, we all want freedom to do what we want when we want it.

For that reason, accountability is really a skill. And to build that skill, think about it like a muscle: It must be built up over time. Take the Zappos on-boarding program…

New hires must show up everyday by 7am or they are fired. No excuses. Coming in one day at 7:05 can mean your job. People would overcome any situation to make sure they would be at work on time. With that kind of “workout regimen” – the accountability muscle is put through basic training.

It’s tempting for a leader to simply declare accountability a core value and expect everyone to fall in line. But the truth is, without starting small and building it over time, everyone is bound to feel disappointed.