When I led HR for Nous Group (a management consulting firm that is one of the ‘best places to work’), I had the pleasure of working closely with the owner and MD, Tim Orton. I always enjoyed our company meetings as Tim really considered what he would discuss and the impact on all of us. In one meeting, he was going through the company results for the end of the financial year. We hadn’t met the targets we’d set, which impacted bonuses for many of us. He shared the figures, what he had learnt from the year (good and bad) and some ideas for the future. He then finished with a statement. He said, ‘I own this’.
It was powerful.
While we all knew we contributed to the results, he was ultimately prepared to own them. He was prepared to fall on his sword.
People value those who hold themselves to account, take responsibility for their actions, and ‘fess up’ to the impact of their words and behaviours. We trust these people because we know they are honest and act with integrity.
When people shirk their responsibilities, ignore what they should be accountable for
or even blame others, we distrust them.
One of the most impressive examples of accountability happened over 30 years ago. Tylenol, a pain reliever manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, is still used in many business schools as an example of how to retain your brand when you own your mistake.
The short version is that seven people died from the potassium cyanide-laced capsules after purchasing them over the counter. Investigations showed that an individual had laced the capsules. Johnson & Johnson halted production, distribution and conducted a nationwide recall of Tylenol. It was estimated to cost them over $100 million for the recall and relaunch.
They could have blamed the perpetrator. They could have blamed the stores for allowing it. They didn’t. They owned it and acted on it.
And here’s the kicker: their stock price actually went up after 12 months. So again, owning your mistakes and being transparent about them is what we want, and what we respond to.
Owning up and fessing up is the new sexy. (That’s my quote in case you were wondering.) When people do this, we want to follow them. We trust them. We respect their honesty and their integrity. They are not trying to pass the buck or hide.
Steve Maraboli, a behavourial scientist, global philanthropist, social philosopher and best-selling author of Life, the Truth, and Being Free tells us that, ‘The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same’.
It’s so true. Being accountable for things can feel the same. Great people own what is necessary and we want to follow them.
It starts at the top – be the walking example. Not the talking one.
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