Have you ever been told that you’re not accountable enough? That’s one of those words you hear, that you think WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? You want to be accountable and you want to get good reviews and you want to be thought of as somebody who’s ready for a big bonus or a promotion. But how do you show that you’re accountable?

I’ve got some tips for you. I’m going to frame them in terms of what you need to do and what that’s going to do for you. I’m going to give them to you in what I call my do-to list instead of a to-do list – we’re going to talk about what you should do and why that works.

Okay, let’s jump in!

1. Paraphrase What You Understand

Number one, you want to first paraphrase what you understand to be the assignment. That is really important because it helps your manager and everybody else around you feel like, okay, you’re processing it, you’ve got it. That’s the first way to show that you’re accountable.

2. Ask Clarifying Questions

Number two, you want to ask clarifying questions. If you just hear the task and say, “yep, I’m on it,” they might not feel comfortable that you really appreciate what actually needs to be done. By asking those clarifying questions, digging around in some territory that people hadn’t thought of before they’re going to feel like, oh wow, she’s really taking ownership of this. I feel good about that.

3. What Are The Thresholds?

Three, you want to ask about what are the thresholds or the boundaries for where you should handle something yourself or where you should escalate and get some help. For example, you may say, “okay if everything’s running within a day or two of our proposed plan is it okay if I kind of solve for things myself? I’ll let you know if we are getting to the point where we might be either more than two days late or maybe we’re going to be more than two days early.”

Showing that you appreciate that first of all, there are some things you should be handling yourself, good on accountability but another key thing about accountability is showing that you are aware that there are risks and there are things that are kind of above your pay grade. That’s going to leave your manager with a lot more comfort that if something goes awry, it’s not going to be a big ugly surprise for them.

4. Confirm Dates

Number four, you want to confirm not only the due dates but also anything else in the timeline like milestones or where other people’s deliverables are coming in. When you do that, you make other people feel more confident that you know they’re counting on you and they need something by a certain time so that they can do their piece of the puzzle. And that just makes everybody feel like, whew, okay, she’s on it.

5. Ask For Input

Number five, you want to ask for input about precedents, other projects that have happened before, stakeholders, and what approach makes sense. All of these things are going to show people that you’re not just interested in checking it off and getting it done. You’re really focused on doing it well. That’s going to make people feel much more comfortable that it’s going to be a really good quality job they get turned in at the end of the project.

6. Provide Check-Ins

Number six, you want to provide regular check-ins. One of the things that happens is if you’re working on something and it’s going along well, you may just be in the zone and not be thinking about checking in with your boss or other stakeholders and well, it’s not terrible if nothing’s going wrong. It can just make everyone feel more secure that if anything was going wrong, you would be telling them about it.

Those check-ins make people go, okay good. I don’t have to think about that. But also during those check-ins, if you’re able to say, “hmm I’m just watching because it’s possible that in a couple of days there’s going to be a bit of an issue. We might not have something we need from our supplier.” Showing them that you are anticipating things that are coming is another key step in showing you’re accountable.

7. Coordinate With Others

Number seven, you need to coordinate, coach, influence, and orchestrate with people on whom you’re dependent but that you don’t have control over.

One of the things about accountability is you’re often accountable for things where you don’t control all the pieces of the puzzle, you’re not personally doing all of the work and if that’s the case, you want others to see that you are doing good stakeholder management.

Sometimes that means copying your boss on a message to somebody in another team or in your updates and check-ins making sure to say, “okay, just so you know I’ve been talking with the folks in finance they are all good.” Or, alternatively, “I’m working with someone in finance and I’m not sure that they’re bought in yet. Do you have any strategies for me? Or is there an opportunity for you to liaise with your peer?”

Those kinds of check-ins say that I understand there are parts of delivering this project that are beyond my control but I still own it. I am making sure that we have all those pieces so that we can deliver what I’ve promised.

8. Be Open About What Isn’t Working

Number eight is really, really important. I think sometimes when we think about accountability we think about, “I just have to make sure it works and I’m going to hold on and if I have to throw the Hail Mary pass in the final seconds…” No.

Somebody who’s accountable isn’t just hiding things that are going wrong. You are really surfacing those issues. Talking about them, showing that you are on top of it, that you know what’s coming, that you appreciate that these things that are obstacles and barriers and speed bumps aren’t supposed to get in the way of you still delivering.

That’s going to really reduce people’s concerns that you would just stick with an approach that isn’t working for you. You can imagine how often people say, “well, I worked on it, I tried really hard. I worked day and night, it didn’t work” – but that’s not being accountable. So one of the key things is to make sure you’re talking about what isn’t working and you’re brainstorming and coming up with potential solutions for what you can do differently.

9. The Way To Ask For Help

Number nine, while it’s really important to share if things aren’t going well or if you need help, how you do that makes a big difference to how you’re perceived.

If you just kind of throw up your hands and say, “oh like I don’t know if I can do this.” Well, you can imagine everyone’s going to get a little nervous. Instead, frame your concerns as something really specific: “here’s this one piece of the puzzle. I’m really confident about everything except the rollout to our field staff. I’m wondering if I could get your thoughts on who you think I should talk to to get some ideas for how to do this.”

The more narrow and contained you make it the better. It’s helpful for the other person because then they know exactly where to focus their attentions and their coaching. It’s much, much better to share a specific concern. Just this little bit is a much better way to show you’re accountable when you’re sharing things that aren’t going well.

10. Sometimes, You’re Going to Drop the Ball

And finally, the 10th and most important thing about accountability is sometimes you’re just going to drop the ball. It’s not going to work out even with your best efforts and all those other strategies. And in that case, a really good apology is important.

An apology that includes, “I didn’t deliver this on time…” An apology that includes what you think the impact of that is on others – “…and I know that means you have way less time to get it ready before you have to present it than we hoped you’d have.” Talk about some kind of remedy. “Next time, I’m going to bake in more time for the review process.”

That kind of apology includes not only just a “well, sorry,” but includes stuff that shows you know the impact, you are going to learn and do something differently with it, and that’s going to maintain your perception as somebody who’s highly accountable.

There are so many squishy slippery words that managers use in 360 reviews and performance evaluations to justify why you’re not getting the bonus or not getting the promotion. There is nothing more infuriating than when you don’t know what to do differently in order to do what your boss seems to want from you.

One of the worst ones I hear all the time is when a boss is you’re just not strategic enough. Good news, I’ve got lots of advice about how you can be seen as more strategic.

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