"Houston, We Have a Problem:" 3 Steps Toward Achieving Accountability

Oct. 5, 2017

Imagine if the engineers who were responsible for Apollo 13 just stood around waiting for someone else to do something when they heard those immortal words, "Houston, we have a problem"? No way! Everyone was scrambling to find a way to bring our astronauts home safely. It was not someone else's problem. It was everyone's problem and they all took ownership of finding a solution.

Imagine if everyone took ownership of problems and obstacles that occur each and every day in aviation workplaces! How do we create an environment where team members collectively step up to achieve results and engage others in doing the same?

In today's complex work environment, it is very easy to feel that we have no control over situations. So we blame it on the economy, the government, the boss, the front line, the tools or the computer, etc. Some of the common symptoms that an individual or organization is not accountable for their results:

· Blaming others and pointing fingers

· Blaming policies or work equipment

· Discussions of problems focus more on what cannot be done rather than on what can be done

· Feeling that you have been treated unfairly and thinking you cannot do anything about it

· Spending a lot of time talking about things that cannot be changed

· Citing confusion as a reason for not taking action

· Saying things like: "It's not my job;" "There's nothing I can do about it;" "All we can do is wait and see;" or "Just tell me what you want me to do"

· Spending valuable time crafting a compelling story detailing why you were not at fault

It is very easy to see and feel the above symptoms within our environments, but it is not as easy to find ways to overcome these symptoms. Here are three steps toward building a more accountable team:

Step 1: Set, Manage, and Share Expectations 

In a dynamic and constantly moving and shifting "service world," the key focus for accountability must be complete "service delivery" by setting, managing, and sharing expectations (with both internal and external customers). Without completely understanding, defining, and communicating expectations, it will be difficult to maintain reasonable, credible, and fair accountability standards. Accountability requires definition by leadership. It is not easy and it needs constant vigilance and nurturing. Assumptions are accountability's worst enemy. It is essential for leaders to clearly communicate goals and objectives over and over. The result will be improved accountability. Please do not fall prey to the idea that only the people at the top with big titles are leaders. Anyone can be a leader in his/her workplace environment.

Step 2: Drive Service & Safety Accountability Through Peer Pressure 

Those teams and organizations that are most successful have a service and safety culture driven by the entire organization, not just management. Accountability is not just the responsibility of leadership/management. Focus on the expectation that all are responsible for safety, service, and the organization/team’s success. Potential problems should be identified and dealt with quickly by questioning one another’s approach without hesitation. Everyone is on the same page understanding that no one will accept an individual who is not carrying his/her weight.

Trust and respect is required among all team members for this step to be successful. If there is trust and respect, then team members will not be easily offended. Everyone understands that it is not personal, but an effort to hold the culture to the highest standard (for the good of all).

Remember that positive peer pressure is almost always more powerful than negative feedback from leaders.

Step 3: Do Not Tolerate Bad Attitudes 

Having a bad attitude is the art of looking for trouble and finding it everywhere. Once a bad attitude is tolerated, it can begin to infect a culture. It is then difficult to keep it from spreading. Attitude makes the difference between a good team member and a bad team member. It can create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance.

Once again, leadership/management cannot be the only ones weeding out those with a bad attitude. It is important to hire for attitude. However, there are some “bad ‘tudes” that can interview well and slip through the hiring process. There are also team members that can develop bad attitudes after years on the job. In successful service and safety oriented organizational cultures, each team member is held to the same high standards (by everyone on the team).

One of the elements that can have the biggest impact on accountability, is the willingness of everyone — team members and leadership — to look into a mirror and answer the questions, “Am I accepting mediocrity from myself?” “Am I accepting mediocrity from my team mates?”

The next time you hear “(Houston … insert your name here) we have a problem,” try not to get defensive and think “it wasn’t me!” or “it’s not my problem!” But instead ask yourself what you can do to help find the solution.

About the Author

Christine Hill

Christine Hill, executive vice president and co-founder of ServiceElements, has been in teaching, facilitating, and coaching for 30+ years. She has a Master’s in psychology/education from Northern Arizona University and is passionate about helping organizations, teams, and individuals with development of human interaction skills.