Accountability has little to do with authority. It doesn’t matter if the employer is the CEO, a manager, or a supervisor. In other words, just because someone might be your “boss,” doesn’t mean that there cannot be a negotiated understanding of what needs to be done and the timeline in which it should be accomplished, which is the basis for accountability.
In 1973, I was fired from my first job mainly for not being able to meet deadlines in a timely fashion. The man who hired me became a mentor for me during this segment of my career. One of the main lessons he taught me was about how to negotiate the timeline of a task or project so that both the employer and the employee are held accountable.
When an employer assigns a task, they might tell you what they want you to do and ask for the work to be completed within a certain timeline. This practice gives little room for mutual commitment. What if, in contracting, the employee has the opportunity to suggest an appropriate deadline; one that fits with their schedule based on their workload. For example, “I can have this back to you on Wednesday.” “When on Wednesday?” the employer may ask. It’s always important to precisely add a time as to when the work will be completed. The critical moment for accountability comes when the employer suggests that they would like the work completed sooner than the employee originally suggested and then follows up with the important bit of negotiation — by asking what can be removed from their plate so that both the employee can have the time to get the work done and the employer gets the turnaround they want.
When someone walks up to your desk and drops something on it, you’re empowered to ask 4 simple questions:
- Are the deadlines appropriate based on your current workload?
- Have you received a full explanation for the task at hand?
- How will you employee be measured on the successful completion or how will the performance be evaluated?
- Has someone allowed you to take ownership of the task?
This negotiation process helps both parties meet their needs and gives the employee ownership of their time. It is a picture of two adults working together to meet their joint goals. There is a “give and get” implied rather than a “tell and demand” for work completion that does not give the employee any wiggle room.
When a comfortable space is created where the employee is recognized and valued and, most importantly, listened to, not only is the work of higher quality but also there is more information shared to ensure that the tasks or projects are understood to be a joint responsibility.