When Are Employees Going to Start Feeling Accountable?

I cannot tell you how many of my clients ask me this question. When I ask them “What exactly do you want your people to feel accountable for?” the response typically references any number of metrics, goals and KPIs such as quality, service, sales, safety, cost, etc. I must admit I always get a little anxious just before I reply with “Well, people will never feel accountable to any of those things”.

accountable
This response usually raises an eyebrow at the very least. Here is how I explain:
The fact is, as Human Beings we simply do not biologically feel accountable to numbers or goals or any other measurements that may exist. We feel accountable to people.

When we have a strong relationship with a person, a relationship that has a solid foundation of trust, we feel a need to ensure that we do not let that person down. We want them to know that they can count on us through thick and thin. And when we rise to the occasion and fulfill whatever is required of us, we feel a sense of pride, just as they do when they see us succeed. These feelings are the result of specific chemicals that are released in our brains. Our “feel good” chemicals known as serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine are there to incent us to repeat behaviors that are in our best interest. They encourage us to form relationships, to form social bonds. We are social animals and cultivating relationships is paramount to our survival and ability to thrive. But in the presence of mere numbers and goals these chemicals remain unleashed. Now, that doesn’t not mean that in the absence of a solid relationship when we hit a number or accomplish a goal that we do not feel something good. We do, we get a hit of dopamine. But those feelings are self-gratifying, short lived and pale in comparison to when we can share an accomplishment with someone that we trust and care for. That kind of interaction results in a sublime mix of Oxytocin, Serotonin, & Dopamine and thus encourages us to go do it again!

If leaders wish for their people to feel accountable, to exercise personal accountability and rise above victimization, to do all they can to accomplish the goal and work as a team regardless of the situation, then they need focus on developing strong relationships with those in their care. Lead by example. Demonstrate morale courage and make the tough decisions. Provide regular and specific feedback. Be honest. Let go of the need to control. Empower, delegate and trust that your people can get it done. This is how you build a relationship that fosters uncompromising trust. It is then when people will feel accountable.

-Bart
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