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When I was a young manager I had a boss that regularly asked me to do things. And, being the accountable, eager-to-please guy that I was, I would make sure I met my promises. And that I where I started to learn about accountability in the workplace.

A few times in a row I presented my promised work back to my boss and it was obvious from his reaction that he couldn’t remember asking me for it. What a letdown. I had worked overtime to make sure it was right. He tucked the report into his brief case and that was the last I heard of it. Sigh.

As time went on I started playing a little game. When he asked me for things I said yes, did the work and then held onto the report (or whatever he asked me for) until he remembered to follow up. And, he never remembered. Over time, I learned to promise things and slowly but surely I never even did the work. He seemed so ready to ask for things but made no effort to follow up. So, I had become a “yes” man – saying yes to things I never even meant to deliver.

Later in my career I had a boss who printed every promise I made and stuck it in a binder tab with my name on it. If he asked me for something it went into the binder. When we started meetings, he went through every promise, starting with the oldest promise in the binder, and asked for an update. Wow! To say that this was the polar opposite was an understatement. He was intent on holding me to account! I had to be very careful about what I promised, when I promised it for and for the quality of the deliverables.  He was comfortable letting me manage my promises but he insisted that I actually did manage them. For example, I could miss original delivery dates but I had to manage expectations around that. Honestly, I can tell you that I didn’t like it much but I respected the process.

This is how accountability works. As human beings we want to be held to account. I was disgusted with myself when I became the “yes” guy. Even though I despised meetings with the second boss I respected myself more. One of these mangers drove a culture of accountability in the workplace on his team. The other drove a culture of malpractice.

Which boss are you more like? Any great stories on how you drive a culture of accountability?  I would love to hear them!