Three Steps to Building Accountability

Jan. 25, 2018
How hard conversations lead to lasting change.

Several years ago at one of our monthly shop meetings I taught a very foundational principle. It was one I learned several years prior from Steven Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It centers on one word: responsibility. Covey breaks the word down into two smaller words contained in that word: response and ability. When you look at it through that lens of two words, it’s easy to see that it means simply, “able to respond.”

Personal accountability is not something that can be learned one time and have a lasting impact, though. We are wired to complain. We are wired to gossip. We are wired to whine. “Why can’t the body guys get it together? I have to send jobs back constantly!” Or, “Why can’t the managers level out this workload? All the techs get crushed with work one week and then almost nothing the following week!” Or, “That paint department just holds my jobs forever! Why am I always getting pushed to the back of the line!” The thing is, there are actually really good answers to all these questions. In fact, every one of those challenges could be solved but it requires a few things: 1. Taking personal responsibility, 2. Having hard conversations, 3. Asking for what we want or need.

Personal Responsibility

It’s so much easier to think and act as if we have no responsibility in the issues that exist in our life. It must be someone else’s fault! It’s the government or my upbringing or my lack of opportunity. Or closer to home, in our context, it’s the owner or manager or the painter’s fault. The thing is, though, we can’t control anyone else’s behaviour. We can’t. Many days I wish we could but that is not how things are designed or meant to be. The only person I can control is myself. And that forces us to ask different questions. Instead of, “Why can’t they get their stuff together?” we ask, “What can I do to improve this situation?” The answer often comes in one or both of the next two key steps.  

Having Hard Conversations

Nobody really likes to confront other people. It is so much easier to talk about someone than to talk to them. But only one of those leads to change. The other doesn’t do anything except make me feel superior to someone else. However, if we want things to change for the better in any situation, a hard conversation is often necessary. Now, by “hard” I do not mean yelling or getting in someone’s face. I mean giving them the benefit of the doubt while at the same time challenging a behaviour that makes your job harder. Often, you’ll find the other person had no idea they were even affecting your job and only a small tweak is required to make your job better. And if we simply take the final step, they will be more than happy to make that tweak.

Ask for What You Want

There’s an ancient teaching that almost everyone has heard by now: “Ask and you will receive.” Most people think this only applies to prayer or spiritual things. While I believe that is true, I also think that is simply how the universe is wired. If we want something, the first step to getting it is simply asking.

As leaders, how do we make taking personal responsibility, having difficult conversations and asking for what we want a normal part of how the shop operates?

Modeling, Training, and Accountability

The first thing that must be done is the managers need to model the correct behavior. If the leaders of shops aren’t able to do it, it will never become part of the everyday shop life. So what is it that is bothering you right now and how might you apply personal responsibility, having a difficult conversation and asking for what you want to that challenge?

Secondly, leaders need to train their teams in how to take responsibility. When a tech comes to you with a complaint about another employee, offer to walk with them through the hard process of having a hard conversation. If they are not willing to do the work to make it better, then make it clear they can not complain about it. It’s an either/or situation. Either you deal with it—and I’m more than willing to help you—or you stop complaining.

Lastly, there is accountability. This is the crucial follow up that is needed to make it stick. If someone says they are going to follow through and have the hard conversation or ask the person that is creating the challenge to change a behavior, then circle back with them and ask them how it went. If all we do is talk about change, well, we’ll never see any change.

The most important reason this matters is results. We want all want to improve. We all want a better working environment. We all want to level up and do a better job. And the good news is there’s a way for that to happen if we’re willing to take responsibility, have difficult conversations, and ask directly for what we want.

About the Author

Kevin Rains

Kevin Rains is the owner of Rains CARSTAR Group with locations in Cincinnati, Ohio; West Chester, Ohio; and Lexington, Kentucky. He is also an industry consultant. He can be reached at [email protected].

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