We all know that being accountable in the workplace is the only way to ensure the success of any venture. People need to be responsible for their actions, behaviour, and work produced – as well as the results of any of these. Unfortunately, we also all know that many people fail when it comes to accountability.

For example, how many times have you experienced someone arriving late to an offsite meeting space and making some excuse about public transport or traffic? Instead of taking responsibility for not taking the Tube or traffic into account and planning accordingly, they sit down in a huff, believing that they’re the one who has been inconvenienced. Many prime examples of people not being accountable can be found in meetings as these are spaces where you have the most interaction with the organisation or team as a whole.

Perhaps when we think of accountability and people’s failures in that area, we need to think more about the way we frame accountability in the workplace. Is the way we talk about accountability in the workplace a negative or positive thing? Maybe, changing the way we view accountability could be the best way to encourage more people to take it on in their everyday actions and behaviour.

It’s time to think of accountability more as “personal ownership”

Do you think of accountability as a standard to which you are being held? Is it something to be used as a weapon in punishing people whose actions have not had the desired results? If so, that could be the completely wrong way of viewing accountability. By thinking of it as something someone else holds over you, accountability becomes negative.

However, if you start to encourage people in your business or organization to view accountability in terms of personal ownership, you’ll find they’ll be more positive about being accountable for their actions and behaviour.

What this means is that people take personal ownership for everything they do instead of being held accountable by a manager or team lead. It’s a mindset where people realise that everything they do is owned by them and therefore the results of anything they have done should be owned by them too.

It starts with taking ownership of the good as well as the bad

If you want people to take personal responsibility for anything within their control that goes wrong, you also have to give them positive feedback for everything that goes right. It’s a simple case for positive reinforcement in the workplace. If employees or team members are aware that their successes will be celebrated as much as their mistakes will be brought up, they will be more encouraged to take ownership of everything they do.

By ensuring that someone is well aware of any mistakes they make but celebrate any achievement as a team without mentioning them individually, you’re forcing them to view accountability as something that is only ever negative. When someone is sure that their successes will receive as much attention as their failures, they will see accountability as a neutral concept that is never entirely positive or entirely negative.

Taking ownership of mistakes and failures can be positive

Being held accountable by someone in a position of authority is a sure way to ensure that people do what needs to be done out of fear. However, if you view it more as taking ownership of mistakes or failures, it can be a positive experience. They become instances to learn and grow from rather than something to punished for.

As a leader, you want your team members or employees to learn from any bad judgments or ill-advised actions. This is the only way to ensure that what went wrong won’t happen again. When people start to look at changing the way they do things going forward rather than feeling shame about what they’ve done in the past, the more pragmatic their approach to the workplace will be.

Accountability is vital, but so is how you view it

Without accountability in the workplace, you’ll have people showing up late to meetings, blaming others for their mistakes and refusing to take responsibility for the results of their actions. However, just because accountability is vital to the workplace, that doesn’t mean you need to view it as a necessary evil.

Instead, you can easily put a positive (and meaningful) spin on it by turning it into personal ownership. When people own their work as well as their actions and intentions, they will be more willing to take on the responsibility of learning from their mistakes and making changes to ensure more successes going forward. Accountability should never be about punishment. It should be about ownership and finding the best way to do things in the future. That’s the only way to ensure the success of any team, organization or venture.