Creating a Culture of Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility. It’s something I frequently hear leaders say they wish they saw more of in their employees. It’s often described as a generational deficiency.  There may be some truth to that. My parents and previous employers probably thought the same of me. But personal responsibility as a character trait has much more to it that just a generational boundary. As with so many behavioral patterns in our family, work and society, a lot has to do with leadership. While we can’t change when an individual was born and what they were exposed to in their developing years, there are several simple steps leaders can take to create a culture of personal responsibility in their organization.  Throwing up our hands and blaming a generation is not one of them.

  1. The first and arguably most important step is to model responsibility yourself. Dodging issues, making excuses and pushing things off is exactly the behavior we don’t want to see in our employees and yet it’s often modeled. Leaders need to own their performance issues. Problems in the organization, no matter where they occur are the leader’s responsibility. They must own successes and failures. A leader who accepts responsibility for what happened is demonstrating personal responsibility and is more likely to see it modeled among the employees.
  2. Your job as the leader is not to do the work of the employee. That’s their job. Hand holding beyond the training period only enables poor performance. It is the leader’s job, though, to create a pathway for success. That might involve arranging for additional training, assistance or resources. Don’t provide what you think the individual needs, ask them what they feel is necessary. After all it’s their responsibility to complete the assignment.
  3. Success and responsibility can only exist in the context of a purpose and clear expectations. Much poor performance can be traced back to vague and incomplete instructions leading to different expectations. Clarify, in writing if necessary, expectations of deadlines, quality, communication, methods and more. Ask if they understand the expectations and have any concerns about performing them.
  4. Sometimes individuals don’t appear to take personal responsibility because they don’t know how to do what’s asked of them, but they won’t tell you that. They just plod along. When handing out an assignment, ask if they know how to perform the work? You might be surprised by the answer.
  5. Trust and verify. All the yeses and head nodding still doesn’t guarantee results. Monitoring and feedback does. During the assignment, touch base periodically, even frequently if necessary, but don’t handhold. Create interim milestones to break down the assignment into bite size pieces for the employee. When performance isn’t where it should be, ask probing questions instead of giving advice. Your questions help the individual solve their own problems, teach discipline and reinforce the expectations. Resist the temptation to lower or change the expectation.
  6. Support someone you believe in when they fall short. Don’t throw them under the bus. Accept responsibility yourself for their shortcomings and hold them to the same standard of personal accountability. Ask what you could have done differently to have added to their success. When you do you’re demonstrating humility and responsibility. Expect the same from them.

People generally like working for leaders they respect and believe care about them. Your engagement in an individual’s work life will communicate the degree to which they feel that bond. The more you model personal responsibility yourself and hold others to the same standard the more likely it will be that you get what you’re looking for. Model the standard, expect the standard, and do what you can to facilitate that everyone can perform to the standard.

Winston Churchill said: “The price of greatness is responsibility”. If you want a great organization, stop using a generation as the reason for just being average. Be intentional about creating a culture of personal responsibility and your organizational can become great.

If you’d like to talk about how to create a culture of personal responsibility, call or reach me through the “contact us” tab on this page.

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