The Straight Truth


Clarity: The Core of Accountability

“Personal accountability means if we have a discussion and we agree we’re going to do something, that’s what’s going to be done. It’s not a variation of what’s going to be done. It’s what’s going to be done.” – Alan Bolotin, Estate / Financial planner

Don’t Play the Blame Game

After a quality manager had a reporting meeting to her superiors go very badly she decided to refrain from blaming the team for not stepping up and doing their part as they had verbally agreed in the pre-meeting. Instead, she directed her energy toward making sure it never happened again. Now, she creates perfectly clear agreements with the team about who will speak about what and puts the agreement in writing.

Accountable people make clear agreements.

The most effective agreement is written. The written agreement specifies who will do what, and by when. As with a contract, everyone involved signs the written agreement and agrees to comply. Everybody gets a copy; everybody buys in, and that buy-in makes it far more likely that everyone will honor the agreement.

People can be unclear about their expectation and commitments until they’re tasked with writing them down. With a written agreement, everybody is accountable for exactly what he or she agrees to do, and each agrees to be accountable and meet the deadlines. With a written agreement, all involved can hold themselves and each other accountable for living up to that agreement. If a dispute or an objection arises later, the team can refer to the written agreement. It’s a far more effective tool than a conversation with no written record of the promises made.

The effective written agreement covers the following:

  • What is the task for project I am taking ownership of?
  • What is the expected outcome or deliverable?
  • What actions will I take to complete the task?
  • What is the deadline for each task I have agreed to perform?
  • What are the benefits of completing the tasks, and what are the consequences of not honoring the agreement?

In addition to making assignments perfectly clear, the written agreement can help keep you and your colleagues on track. It can help you schedule the work so you’ll have time to complete it. It also can serve as a red flag if you realize, once you put the work into your schedule that you have inadvertently agreed to something you can’t possibly accomplish by the deadline you agreed to.

Your teammates will appreciate you more if you contact them well in advance of the deadline to renegotiate that due date instead of letting the due date slip away without giving anybody a heads-up that you won’t be able to meet it.

The Foundation of a Culture of Trust

You can build a personal culture of trust by taking care to honor the agreements you’ve made. Be accountable for those agreements. Be clear and transparent. Once you start, it becomes an unstoppable force. Until you do that, you will never be successful at holding others accountable. If it’s OK for you to break an agreement, those whose feet you’re holding to the fire will, very reasonably, figure that it’s OK for them too.

Any lack of trust that surrounds you starts with you. Can you be trusted. Do you do what you say you will do, by when you agreed to do it? Are you willing to make clear agreements? In writing? Yes, that pins you down, and that can seem uncomfortable and inflexible. But if you want to be trusted, that’s the price you have to pay.

Would you like to have clarity, transparency, accountability, and the trust of those you work with and for? Or is it more important to retain some flexibility and wiggle room, and an environment where you can get away with excuses and justification?

Demonstrate, at every opportunity that you can be trusted. Trust will not be mandated into existence, it’s up to you to create it for yourself. To see it, you have to be it.

Being Crystal Clear is Not Without Risk

A clearly written agreement will prevent you from claiming, if you don’t do what you promised, that you didn’t understand what you were supposed to do. It will shoot holes in just about any excuse you can come up with for not performing on the agreement you made. It will rob you of scapegoats and playing the victim card.

Make clear agreements a routine practice whenever any other person – a boss, a colleague, or a client – is involved in any transaction with you. Clarity has two sides: being clear about what is expected of you and, and making your expectations clear to others.