The Art of Accountability

The Art of Accountability

By Ted French, President & Founder, Acclivity Healthcare

We hear a lot these days about accountability. But what does that really mean? Webster defines accountability as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility. The healthcare executives we surveyed certainly agreed with this definition. They look for people that own the problem. But they took this one step further. You can’t just own the problem. That’s the simple part. You also have to own the solution. You have to delve down deep, see the problem for what it is and then look for the process to solve it and then, most importantly, solve it. That’s what accountability is all about.

Easier said than done. So how do you do this?

First things first. You find the problem. This is often where people struggle. Try this process:

1. Define the problem: (with input from yourself and others)

Ask yourself and others, the following questions:

  • What can you see that causes you to think there’s a problem?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • With whom is it happening? (HINT: Don’t jump to “Who is causing the problem?” When we’re stressed, blaming is often one of our first reactions. To be an effective manager, you need to address issues more than people.)
  • Why is it happening?
  • Write down a five-sentence description of the problem in terms of “The following should be happening, but isn’t …” or “The following is happening and should be: …” As much as possible, be specific in your description, including what is happening, where, how, with whom and why.

Now that you’ve defined the problem or problems, it’s time to prioritize.

2. Prioritize the problems:

  • If you discover that you are looking at several related problems, then prioritize which ones you should address first.
  • · Note the difference between “important” and “urgent” problems. Sometimes, what we consider important problems are really just urgent problems. Important problems deserve more attention. For example, if you’re continually answering “urgent” phone calls, then you’ve probably got a more “important” problem and that’s to design a system that screens and prioritizes your phone calls.

3. Understand your role in the problem:

  • Your role in the problem can greatly influence how you perceive the role of others. For example, if you’re very stressed out, it’ll probably look like others are, too, or, you may resort too quickly to blaming others. Or, you are feel very guilty about your role in the problem, you may ignore the accountabilities of others.

Okay, so far we’ve defined the problem, prioritized it and we know the part we play in it.

4. Now it’s time to look for the cause:

  • Since, odds are, you didn’t cause the problem or if you did, you didn’t do it alone, you’ll need others input. It’s best to talk to those who are directly affected by it. It’s often useful to collect this input individually, at least at first. A big meeting to find a problem usually results in fear and finger-pointing.

Now that you have data from others, you should be able to answer what is happening, where, when, how, who and why. Now you’ve really identified your problem.

5. Time to fix it.

But where to start? Unless this is a personal or employee performance issue, it’s useful to keep others involved. When people are a part of the solution, it’s much easier to get buy in early on. You can brainstorm solutions to collect as many ideas as possible, then screen them to find the best idea. Remember, there is no bad idea when you’re brainstorming. The more the merrier!

6. Now it’s time to create your action plan:

This is the actual method you will use to resolve your problem. There are many key factors to consider at this point –

  • What will success look like? You have to know what you hope your end results will be before you reach them.
  • What are the steps that should be taken to get there?
  • How will you know if the steps are being followed or not? What your measures?
  • What resources will you need in terms of people, money and facilities?
  • How much time will you need? When do you expect results?
  • Who will be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the plan?

Now that you have your action plan, communicated it to everyone involved in implementing it and to your boss.

7. Monitor implementation of the plan. You should check the indicators of success. Ask yourself:

  • Are you seeing what you would expect from the indicators?
  • Will the plan be done according to schedule?
  • If the plan is not being followed as expected, then consider: Was the plan realistic?
  • Are there sufficient resources to accomplish the plan on schedule?
  • Should more priority be placed on various aspects of the plan? Should the plan be changed?

8. Verify if the problem has been resolved or not.

One of the best ways to verify if a problem has been solved or not is to resume normal operations in the organization. Still, you should consider:

  • What changes should be made to avoid this type of problem in the future? Consider changes to policies and procedures, training, etc.
  • Lastly, consider “What did you learn from this problem solving?” Consider new knowledge, understanding and/or skills.
  • Consider writing a brief memo that highlights the success of the problem solving effort, and what you learned as a result. Share it with your supervisor, peers and subordinates.

Another key point in accountability for the CFOs we surveyed was that the employee also holds their direct reports equally accountable for their performance. This shouldn’t be just big picture thinking. It should have a trickledown effect so that everyone in the company is accountable to do what they say and say what they do…every single time.