Accountability—Stand UP to Stand OUT

Accountability: Stand Up to Stand Out by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

One of the rarest commodities in organizational settings today is accountability, someone taking true ownership for results, good or bad. No excuses. No defensiveness. Just pure ownership. Being accountable.

Walking along in a magnificent field of wildflowers near the summit of Mt. Rainer, I was amazed by the view surrounding me. If you’re familiar with the US Pacific Northwest, you know that clear, sunny days are NOT common. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had 1 day to take a quick side-trip from Seattle and I nailed it (not that I’m in control of the weather, but you know what I mean). It was gorgeous. Clear, blue skies, a few white clouds, and TONS of wildflowers. Why in the world I began thinking about “accountability” I don’t really know. But that’s often the case with me. When I’m away from the normal daily “grind” (even a good grind), it seems like my mind clears up and semi-random thoughts come to me. On this day it was accountability. An often USED “buzzword” that is NOT often SEEN in practice. Easy to SAY, harder to DO.

Let’s face it, in our complex, 24×7, matrixed, global environments, few individuals 100% “own” anything. There are almost always other people (stakeholders, suppliers, customers, bosses, subordinates, colleagues, etc.) upstream or downstream (or sidestream) involved in your work. People whose actions can “mess up” (or “save”) the results for which you’re accountable.

The common person can, and will, find ways of “blaming” (directly or indirectly) someone else for missing targets, goals, or measurable objectives. These people (who represent the majority) always find a way to shift the blame for their poor or mediocre performance to someone else. “It was their fault…. I didn’t have the raw materials I needed. … The carrier was late. … We didn’t receive notice ‘til the last minute.” Blah, blah, blah.

In an organizational setting, there are certainly legitimate reasons for performance gaps that are beyond your direct control, but you have the ability to influence almost everything (to one degree or another). It is your job as a leader to determine risks and take actions to mitigate those risks.
Rodney called and apologized. He said there had been an accident at the plant. Nothing life-threatening, but an OSHA-recordable injury nonetheless. A truck driver had walked behind a moving forklift in the plant and into the forklift operator’s blind spot. He was hit. The truck driver had violated the pedestrian “lanes” inside the plant. In the end, he received some stitches and had a badly sprained ankle.

On the phone, Rodney told me what had happened in detail and apologized again. He said that as plant manager, he was accountable and that he’d lead a root-cause investigation and share the results in a couple days. True to his word, Rodney called a couple days later, shared the root cause and associated action plan to address the situation.

A few things are worth noting. This plant had a stellar safety record (several years with 0 recordable injuries). The truck driver had been trained (like all employees) on where to walk and the dangers of walking outside the pedestrian lanes. Rodney never blamed the driver, complained, or gave any excuses. As his boss, I knew Rodney was a great plant manager. I knew he had good safety process in place. I knew the safety performance of his plant was world-class. And I appreciated Rodney’s willingness to “own” the problem. To be accountable, study the issue, and take action.

One of the reasons Rodney stood out among his peers was he didn’t make excuses. He was willing to own problems. He was willing to stand UP and be accountable.
No one likes whiners. Stand out. Be accountable. Work to control things in your direct control and influence those outside your direct control. In the end, stand up and be accountable. Stand up to stand out.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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