Accountability can best be described as a sense of personal responsibility and ownership. I describe it as a proactive approach to life that focuses on current and future efforts to achieve, rather than a reactive one filled with excuses and justifications that support failure.

In corporate settings, accountability seems only applicable when something has gone wrong or when someone is pointing the finger and laying blame. Based on the resulting feelings, I think it’s fair to say that most of us view accountability as something that is inflicted upon us. In addition, we do not like being told that we have made a mistake or have not met expectations; that’s just human nature. We feel criticized and put down. At a greater depth, these feelings can chip away at our self-esteem, if we let them. The more we experience those feelings, the greater our tendency to resist any sense of ownership and responsibility.

It’s no wonder that many of us spend so much time explaining and justifying why we don’t do what we are supposed to do. People in organizations consequently use up their precious time and energy justifying poor performance and inappropriate behavior instead of finding ways to improve them.

Creating an accountable workforce first requires a commitment to eliminate the cause of all corporate ailments; management malpractice. The starting point should be training & education in people management and interpersonal skills development. It is important to have all levels of management and front-line supervision participate actively in the same programs. This will ensure consistency in best practices and the development of a common language, ensuring if you will that everyone is reading from the same page. Second, we must realize that accountability does not happen overnight. It takes time so patience and persistence are a must. Many organizations mistakenly believe that once employees are introduced to the concept of accountability and understand it, they will automatically fall in line and begin to operate from an accountable position. That expectation is unreasonable. Organizations who make long term commitments to continuous improvement experience the most return on their investment.

Third, the organization must be prepared to replace managers, supervisors, staff, and hourly employees who resist change and insist on keeping things the way they always have been, despite the company’s efforts to have them engage differently. Organizations should partner only with employees who are dedicated to make a difference and contribute to a change in culture.