Updated: Jun 27, 2020
I had the opportunity and honor to have Henry Evans in my podcast to talk about accountability. Henry is the author of the best selling book "Winning with Accountability: the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations". Henry is internationally known for his expertise in creating high-accountability cultures and emotional intelligent leadership. He is also the co-founder and Change Excellence Officer (CEO) for Dynamic Results, LLC.
I read the book several years ago and it provided me a different perspective on accountability. Being Spanish my mother tongue, we don't have a word for accountability in Spanish, we'll talk about that in a minute, so my experience with the word accountability only goes back a few years ago. My experience has been that accountability has more of a negative connotation. It's used many times as a way to point fingers at someone else, blame or ridicule people for not delivering on something. I would hear the term accountability is a punitive connotation more than a constructive one.
In his book, Henry defines accountability as: clear commitments, that in the eyes of others, have been kept. If we think about it people deal with us based on what they think about us, not what we think they should think about us. That is why a commitment is only met if it is met in the eyes of the other person. When we think about accountability in this way we can appreciate the positive essence of accountability and as something we want to embrace and live every day to drive high performance.
In the book he refers to accountability as the language of high performance organizations. And language is a key word here. In Spanish the word accountability doesn't exist. The closest would be responsibility and once you understand really what accountability means these two can't be used as synonyms. In our conversation, Henry explained how a different experience has been for him to teach accountability in Mexico and other Latin American countries since the word accountability does not exist in the Spanish language which translates into the construct of accountability may not exist. This explains why deadlines and timelines are less important in these countries because accountability is not part of the fabric of the language.
Accountability is in itself a language, the language of specificity. Just like you can travel to a different country and survive without speaking the language but you can't fully experience the culture unless you speak the language, the same happens with accountability. Accountability is the language of high performing organizations. There is a way they speak in the way they are making and requesting commitments that leads directly to best business performance and relationships. On the other hand, low performing organizations speak in a less clear and more ambiguous way, which leads to more relationship and project failure.
In the book, Henry talks about the language of accountability and the glossary of failure. Ambiguity and lack of specificity are the enemies of accountability. When I took the "Winning with Accountability" training we were asked to do an email audit (this was over 5 years ago and I still remember it, that tells you how impactful it was for me) . In this audit were asked to identify any language that was ambiguous and not specific enough. Some of the biggest offenders of this glossary of failure include words like: soon, asap, right away, the end of the day/week/month, later, I'll try, might, etc. I found myself using many of these often. I wonder why I was so frustrated when people were not delivering things "on time" based on what I thought I had clearly communicated. Or why people will follow up with me on things I had committed to do when I thought I still had time to finish it due to my understanding of the expectations.
In the book "Winning with Accountability: the Secret Language of High Performing Organizations", Henry introduces the Accountability Puzzle. A culture of accountability is one where all team members hold each other accountable for their commitments in a positive and productive manner, and they do so by embracing the four pieces of this Accountability Puzzle.
Clear expectations: communicating a clear visual on the expected outcome.
Specific date & time: determine a reasonable time frame to deliver that, including the time zone when.
Ownership: there is always one and only one owner for each measurable outcome.
Share: simple change management, share the to do list and our commitments with the key stakeholders that need to know about this work.
On this last point of sharing, I personally find that when I share my commitment with others, because I am a type A personality and fulfilling the commitments I make to others is a key value of mine, when I share my commitments publicly helps me fight back procrastination and reduces my chances of giving up; because I know that when I share there is no turn around. When you just keep your goals to yourself it is always easy to find excuses or justification for giving up.
Once we let someone know about our intentions, we take them more seriously.
Finally we talked about finding an accountability partner, and Henry shared his tips on what to look for when identifying the right accountability partner. Here is a video of Henry explaining the 3 rules to choose an accountability partner.
And if you haven't listened to the podcast episode with Henry, don't miss it out!