This is the Reason You Failed: 3 Ways to Encourage Accountability in the Workplace
Who shoulders the blame when everything goes wrong? People are quick to point fingers when something goes awry, and it’s a serious problem in today’s workplace.
Honestly, I get why there seems to be a shortage of accountability. No one wants to be the reason that a project fails or a client complains. I’m constantly in awe of the number of managers who will berate their employees for even the smallest mistakes.
Instead of encouraging employees to improve, this mismanagement causes workers to look for scapegoats—anything they can point to that will mitigate their own culpability. In the long run, this mindset can kill your employees’ sense of confidence and potentially ruin your business.
Before I dive in and offer a solution, let me take a quick deter. When writing or telling a story we break characters into two categories based on their actions. We call them either passive or active characters.
Passive characters take the easy excuse. They are victims of their circumstances and are unable (or unwilling) to take the steps needed to affect change in their life. Active characters change their environment according to their own will and self-agency. Stories often fail because of passive characters.
Think of some of the books you’ve read. Does the protagonist typically sit around and wait for adventure? Do events just seem to happen to the protagonist for no reason? Does the book end as soon as something bad happens? No! That would be boring.
So you might be thinking, “Ok, cool, thanks for the writing lesson, but what does this have to do with accountability?”
I’m so glad you asked!
The way I see it, there are two mindsets when it comes to accountability: passive and active. People either see their lives as fixed and out of their control, or they believe that their story is theirs to shape. How each type of person reacts to failure ultimately determines their success—whether it’s in their professional life, social relationships, or personal goals. Learning to recognize a passive vs. active reaction in yourself and others is an essential part of managing a team.
Passive Mindset vs. Active Mindset
- “Yeah, the project isn’t coming along as quickly as I’d hoped. My team just isn’t getting it done.”
- “I can’t go to the gym anymore. The muscle-heads stare at me, and I can just tell that they’re judging me.”
- “Jenn and I broke up. She was crazy.”
Don’t kid yourself.
Someone with a passive mindset will always find an external reason for their failure or weakness. They tend to believe that there are forces beyond their control that are acting in control of their life. They don’t do things. Things happen to them.
It’s a sort of perpetual victimhood is that is closely related to narcissism. In both cases, there is an unwillingness to accept personal responsibility for one’s shortfalls. Instead of working to improve what’s wrong, the main goal becomes preserving a fragile self-image.
I don’t want to be cruel. I know that sometimes there will be circumstances that are out of people’s control. A freak accident can knock you down, but let’s be honest, that’s rarely the whole story.
Ask yourself, “Why did I fail? Could I have done something differently to positively affect the outcome?”
This self-awareness is what I’m referring to as an “active mindset.” If you want to cultivate an active mindset, start thinking of yourself as the protagonist in the story of your life. The protagonist makes things happen. They are imperfect, but in the end, they confront those flaws.
Ego is the enemy of self-improvement. When you come to accept that your life is within your control, that you can write your own story, you begin to develop a sense of accountability and agency. When you start to see that you can shape the circumstances of your life, you will see improvement.
Back to Work
As someone in a management position, I believe it is my job to cultivate a workplace that encourages an active mindset. I want for my employees to reflect on their shortcomings without fear of punishment. I know that my team isn’t perfect. I expect them to make mistakes. I also expect them to learn from those mistakes.
So, the question becomes, “How do you encourage your employees to take responsibility and become the protagonists of their stories?”
1. Encourage your employees to tell you when they have a problem. I want to know if someone feels that they are not the right person for a project. It could be that they just lack confidence or need more guidance. Cool. We can work with that. Managers who discourage this honesty, on the other hand, end up with employees who feel disempowered and timid.
2. Have faith in your employees’ abilities. Give your employees the space they need to make their own decisions. This is where micromanagers get it wrong. When your employees are too scared to make independent choices, they tend to become passive. Sure, they’ll do exactly what you say, but they won’t have a sense of pride or ownership over their own work. I have faith in my employees. I wouldn’t have hired them if I didn’t.
3. Take responsibility for your own shortfalls. A bad manager passes the buck. They don’t take accountability for the mistakes, but they take credit for the achievements. When you take on a leadership role, remember that you are ultimately responsible for the success of your team.
In short, leave your ego at the door, and encourage your employees to do the same. Empower yourself and others to write the story of their own success.