How accountable are you? | Blue Sky Accountability Ladder
Sean Spurgin - Director of Learning Design

How accountable are you? Introducing the Blue Sky Accountability Ladder

On the surface, accountability is about owning or taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your impact. Beneath the surface are a set of behaviours that either enable us to take accountability or to take the role of a victim.

Here at Blue Sky, we’ve got an Accountability Ladder, which is there to help you figure out where you are, in terms of accountability, and what actions you need to take to move up the ladder and take responsibility.

In the workplace, accountability builds trust as organisations understand they can depend on their team members. Individuals who are accountable are more likely to be trusted because others know they will keep their word. Once the fear of failure is removed, employee participation and involvement increase, as does the overall feeling of employee competency and commitment to work. If the environment is safe for exploration, then overall performance is higher, as is the level of creativity, innovation, employee morale and work satisfaction. By taking responsibility and taking action when needed, problems can often be averted. Timely responses and action can result in time and cost savings.

Being both responsible and accountable equals taking full ownership of life, although the process may not always be easy, it does offer tangible benefits. Taking personal responsibility for your actions leads to healthier relationships with your friends, family, colleagues and customers, leading to more positive human conversations.
accountability equation, responsible and accountable = ownership of life

Too often leaders of organisations take the credit when things go well, but they find ways to avoid responsibility when they get unexpected results. This behaviour will not work in the long-term; accountability is too important for leaders to avoid.

Are you accountable as a leader?

Many people want to be a leader, however, few are prepared to position themselves on the Accountability Ladder and accept the responsibility that goes with it.

You can’t have one without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

First and foremost, being a leader means that you accept responsibility for the outcomes expected of you, both good and bad. You don’t blame others and you don’t blame the external environment. There are always things you could have done, or still can do, to change the outcome.

More than talking about accountability, great leaders show it. It is not something that happens at moments of convenience or when things go wrong, they showcase it throughout the work they do and the way they lead day in and day out. They know that accountability comes from the existence of trust and the absence of internal politics.

Accountability comes from the presence of trust and the absence of fear

When a manager, or better yet the leadership team, is both trusted and trusting, others in the organisation know where they stand. They have greater confidence in their ability to do the work and in the people they work with. It’s not frightening to take ownership and initiative, but when you and your fellow managers undermine trust, fear finds a foothold. Being accountable becomes risky, with overall customer service and business performance suffering.

In a low trust and toxic climate, it is difficult for managers to demonstrate accountability when other leaders are trying to throw them under a bus. Often, they get blamed for mistakes or don’t get the credit they deserve. Operating in this kind of climate means things take time to get done, it is less productive and actually quite stressful. People cover their arse by ‘cc’ing’ the world into email, corridor conversations happen left, right and centre, meetings are a political minefield where honest, transparent and human conversations just don’t happen. It is just not a nice place to work.

The Accountability Ladder

If you have a situation in your life that you want to change, then the lens that you look through and how you see that situation will massively determine whether you do something about it or not.

The Accountability Ladder is the Blue Sky model for describing the different stages of understanding our behaviour in being accountable and we use it every day at Blue Sky, both with our clients and in our own operations.

It helps us to understand why we may not be getting the results we want out of projects and step up to improve them. Where you are on the accountability ladder directly affects that lens and your chances of actually making that change.

Accountability Ladder from Blue Sky on Vimeo.

The Ladder has eight levels of accountability that allow us to step back, evaluate and really look at the choices we make and how we handle different situations. The top four rungs describe accountable behaviours (things that happen because of you) and the bottom four describe victim behaviours (things that happen to you). Below the line is the place where mood hoovers thrive, it is also the place where nothing new happens. If you’re rolling around below the line, blaming others making excuses or just waiting for something to magically become different, then nothing can change. If that’s what you want and you’re happy there, then that’s OK, there is no judgement in accountability.

BUT if you really want something to change then you have to make a choice and the more time you can spend towards the top of the ladder, the more opportunities you can open up for yourself. Holding yourself accountable is the foundation of a successful mindset.

How does the Blue Sky Accountability Ladder work?

Accountability Ladder - Blue Sky (2)

Victim behaviours

  1. ‘I did not know’. These are the people who are not even aware of the problem or that there may even be a problem.
  2. It is always so easy to point the finger at others. Overcoming this step requires people to point the finger at themselves and admit they may in fact be the problem, not other people or factors.
  3. Making excuses as to why things are not getting done is very easy and a masked form of procrastination. People make excuse like ‘I am too busy’ or ‘I have never done that before’.
  4. Wait and hope. Waiters and hopers are those who do just that. Wait and hope for miracles and successes to happen in their lives without ever lifting a finger and having to actually go out and get it done.

Accountable behaviours

  1. Acknowledging reality. People who are at this level look at the situation in black and white, realising there are tasks that need to get done and they are responsible for doing their part.
  2. I own it. Once people have acknowledged the reality of the situation, they then decide are they going to fall back down the ladder and make excuses, or they take ownership and move forward to create solutions.
  3. Find solutions. Owning the situation is key and once people own it, the next step is to brainstorm and start thinking of solutions.
  4. Make it happen. As it says on the tin, this is about making it happen.

Personal Accountability – How to know when you’re “above the line”

  • You quickly recognise when you are in the victim cycle
  • You acknowledge the reality of existing problems and clearly understand the consequences of not resolving them
  • You try to broaden your understanding about a problem you face by seeking a greater understanding from others
  • You acknowledge when you make a mistake
  • You listen when people offer their perspective and thoughts
  • You look at what you are personally doing (or not doing), that is getting in the way of your progress; as opposed to solely looking at how others are preventing your progress
  • You test your view of reality with other people when faced with a complex problem
  • When explaining your lack of progress, you are quick to acknowledge how you contributed to the lack of results

Do you recognise any of these behaviours in you?

What could you build on to improve further?

Example of being accountable – Nine-year-old Vincent

“Hey Vincent, is everything ok, you’re looking a bit worried?”

“I’ve got a bit of a problem, I’ve not done my school project.”

“So how come you haven’t done it?”

I didn’t know it needed doing.”

“Hmmm, but if you didn’t know it needed doing, how come you’re telling me about it?”

“Well, I guess I did know that it needed doing.”

In this short exchange, young Vincent is already on the shifting sands of perspective. Although I wouldn’t want to say that a young nine-year-old is a victim or displaying victim behaviours, Vincent was and just not taking accountability. What he was trying to do was hold on to being right about being wrong; his own very good reason not to change. Indeed, in his own mind, an entirely adequate reason for his lack of effort or success.

“When you said you didn’t know, but you did know; what’s the real reason you haven’t done it?”

“Well, I never really had it explained to me, the teacher didn’t make it clear.” so he moved to a place of blaming someone else

“Ok, what didn’t the teacher make clear?”

“Well, she didn’t make it clear…well, actually she did make it clear.”

Even at this point, Vincent’s fertile imagination continued to justify his inaction.

“We’ve just been so busy this holiday, and I can’t do it now because there’s only three days left so it’s pointless. It’s not worth me doing it.”

So here he’s saying there’s something I could have done, but at this point I’m still right in not having to do it, if it was my fault before, I’m still ok because there’s no time left.

Finally, Vincent moved onto, “My dad will kill me if I don’t do it”, where he was acknowledging reality. He realised that actually, if he was the only child in that room that hadn’t done the project, the teacher was going to hold him to account. He then moved into owning it.

Things you can do right now

  • Acknowledge the reality. Print off the last 10 emails you sent, both personal and professional, and as you read back through them reflect on where you were on the ladder when you sent them.
  • Think about a change you want to make right now. Where are you with change on the ladder? How could you start to move yourself up two or three rungs to start to take some action?

If you’d like to discuss Blue Sky’s Accountability Ladder tool further, drop us a line.

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