Accountability or Nothing

Ramkumar Venkatesan

Vice President Technology at MiQ Digital



Accountability is a reflection of self-worth, self-confidence and determination. While it is a reflection of these traits, it also serves as a catalyst that can further enhance these traits. It is being responsible towards one's duties which includes delivering expected results, as well as being transparent when things go wrong. Every successful person possesses one common ingredient: Personal accountability. Everyone expects accountability from people, but it's important to deliver on personal accountability and that's what this story will talk about. This story will be helpful for both specialist contributors and team leaders. If you are a leader, it will help you spot and encourage your team members who are accountable and more importantly, you can lead by example. How to be Accountable?

Actions taken

  1. Put your hand up (when others don't): Put your hand up when others are not ready. Others might not be ready because they have other priorities, or it is not very exciting work or comes with some risk. The fact is that work comes in all shapes and forms and all work has to be done by someone. The more you put your hand up for things that have to be done, the more determined you will become.

You will have your own priority items. If you make the right calls on team or company level priority items over yours this shows your ability to take one for the team.

We had a big outage in one of my companies. Many of us were huddled in a war room fixing the issue. There were other projects going on as well, so not all team members were called to the war room. One engineer heard about the issue, and by himself walked into the war room with his laptop in hand. He asked me how he can help. This was the crucial question, and rest of the actual work done was secondary. 2) Outcome does not matter You need to be accountable irrespective of the final result or impact. Whether it is going to be a huge success or a failure, whether it will be a huge impact or lesser. It does not matter.

The final result is not in your control all the time. Being accountable is. You can try to predict what the final result will be and be accountable only when you think the task will succeed. The downside is that your prediction can be wrong. You will not be backing yourself up to turn around things if you take that approach. Hence, the best solution in the long term is to not base when to be accountable on the probability of final success, but to just do it. 3) Visibility does not matter You need to be accountable irrespective of whether others will take notice and whether you will get the necessary credit. Even if the world is not watching, "you" are watching and "you" know whether you were accountable. That is the most important thing in the world. Your self worth will go up many folds if you go down this path.

There is a village near my birth place, where firewood is kept in an open place. Anyone can take it and they can put the necessary money into a box. No one is watching. For years people have been doing this and there haven't been any incidents where people took the firewood and did not pay. People were accountable to "themselves". 4) Who is the force? Who is the force behind your accountability? There are three possibilities

  • No one
  • Manager and the management chain
  • Self and peers The first option is not viable in a successful organization. The second option is prevalent in some teams. It is not ideal for employee morale which in turn affects employee's innovativeness, output etc. Hence, the only viable option is that accountability is ingrained in every employee. In such organizations, peers are able to show the way and raise the bar for everyone.

A person in my team took on the additional task of publishing a monthly "what's new" newsletter in addition to his other deliverables. He appreciated the impact that his work will have in motivating the team to continuously innovate. Without any prompts from me, he set himself a deadline, worked backwards and got it published. He himself was the force behind his accountability. 5) Integrity is a key ingredient Own up to your mistakes however small or large it is. Once you do, you will notice that the tone of the conversation changes completely. The trust factor between the parties involved goes up a notch.

On the other hand if you give excuses or outright don't accept it, the trust quotient can decline.

Overtime, you will be respected for your words and deeds. You will get the benefit of doubt even if you make genuine mistakes.

In this case, I will give a reverse example of what is best avoided. The scenario is that you know or you are expected to know that something better could have been done to prevent an incident that happened. Sometimes we tend to externalize the causes and become a victim of the situation. Being a victim of the situation will never allow us to stand tall and learn from the mistake. 6) Even if you did not cause it, fix it Often there will be things that need to be done, and you would not have caused it. Just fix it, as you would do if it it was a family. People will notice it, maybe not every single time, but a majority of it.

We had a production outage in one of our software services. The issue was not reproducible anywhere else except in production. A colleague spent a lot of time by himself debugging and finally fixing the issue. The issue was caused by someone else's mistake, and this person did not even mention it until a much later time when prompted for the root cause. 7) Chain of Accountability Tasks in a team invariably has dependencies. The output of your task will be the input for someone else's task. A weak link in the chain will make the whole chain less accountable.

Sometimes even though you might feel that the task is not very significant, maybe it serves as an input for someone else's important task. Help others be accountable in their tasks by being accountable yourself.

It is unlikely that you never have to depend on someone else's output in your career. Over time, your good work will come back to benefit you. 8) Value the word you give Words are powerful only when backed up by action. Value the word you give and go to any extent to backup your word.

When you value your word and keep up your commitments, you are no longer weighed down by self-doubts. Instead your self worth and confidence increases. Others will be eager to give their word to you and this cycle prospers.

A woman in my QA team had said that by end of the day a certain deliverable will be completed. It was taking more time and she had some personal appointments in the evening. She packed up and started walking towards the door. No one said anything to her. After walking a short distance, she turned back, unpacked her bag and again started to work. She just couldn't leave without finishing the work taken up and more importantly, keeping her word. 9) Be determined Not all things that you commit to will be a cake walk. Every single task will have a point that seems like a failure either in the beginning or in the middle or at the end. However, every single task that you persist and finish, irrespective of the size or value, boosts your confidence in taking even larger responsibilities.

I have worked with several engineers who have been persistent for days and weeks on tough production issues. They were persistent at it, looked at it from different angles, collaborated with others and they never gave up until the solution was found.

Another memorable conversation that happened more than a decade ago. We had formed a tennis league team and were on the lookout to add a few players to our team. My friend and I were watching couple of people play. One player's strokes were very attractive to watch and was an aggressive player. The other player was a retriever, not very pleasant to watch but will get everything back into play and wear the opponent down and force the opponent to make a mistake.

I liked the more flashy player. My friend made a point that the flashy player can fail in clutch situations while the second player is more determined and will prevail in the end. It turned out to be true in that match as well as through our season. This is something that has helped me over time to subdue any bias for intermittent flashes of brilliance. 10) Make it a habiy Accountability needs to become a habit. It is not possible for it to be occasional or when you think it matters. If you cannot be accountable on small things, it is unlikely that you will be ready when it matters. Treat every opportunity as your training ground for the big day.

A tennis player who does not nail the shot in practice is not going to nail it in a Grand slam final.

An SVP at one of my companies was overseeing a multi-billion dollar business. He responded to emails with a 24 hour sla and had made a habit of it. No excuses for him about being busy or having forgotten. He set an example for the rest of the organization to follow.

Lessons learned

Accountability is a trait that helps you in both good and bad times.

In good times, it propels you even further and in bad times, it helps you get out of the downturn. You can only thrust forward from a strong and firm foundation, and that foundation is Accountability.

As a leader, when you encourage and reward accountability, you will have a strong team that is adaptable, self-motivated and one that can be counted on to deliver.

All the best for your and your team's next jump forward from a firm foundation based on accountability ! Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accountability-nothing-ramkumar-venkatesan/

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Ramkumar Venkatesan

Vice President Technology at MiQ Digital

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