Accountability – the ugly side of Professionalism

Accountability. It’s a word that can be tough to bring up in a conversation, and even tougher to apply in our professional lives. Especially if that situation involves you personally. However without accountability, chaos can strike quickly and turn an exceptional opportunity into disaster, potentially harming one’s professional reputation. The opportunity that once appeared to be a flourishing flower can quickly vanish into thin air. No, this isn’t the Dr. Phil site, that’s here. I wanted to depart from the normal tech content of this site as I recently found myself in such a situation where accountability was tested. I can attest that your work being called into question can make one extremely uncomfortable, or even downright angry, to say the least.

I’m sure if you’re reading this post, then you are most likely somehow involved in the field of Information Technology and the setup below will ring true. I would also assume that it will find you shaking your head in agreement. 🙂 I feel that it helps explain my thoughts on accountability well.

“If you assemble 200 Wi-Fi experts in one room, such as the conference, most likely you will get 200 different opinions as to proper WLAN design for coverage, capacity and airtime consumption.”

The preceding statement was written a few weeks ago by an industry veteran and posted on twitter with much agreement. We’ve all seen this happen in real life. Give a group of IT people a set of requirements for a project, whether they be wired or wireless (or both), and you will have uniquely different finished products out of each of those individuals. The great thing is that it’s perfectly acceptable as long as the final product meets the needs of the project. No single person’s work is any “more right” than another. However, when a result is produced that works but doesn’t meet the needs of the project, it’s our responsibility as professionals to hold that work accountable. It is our responsibility as professionals to educate and find a way to amend the offending work, bringing it to a state that meets the needs and expectations for the project.

So what should one do when they find themselves in such a situation?

  • Take emotion out of the situation

Sure, no one likes to be told they’re wrong. It’s simple human nature. However, the very first thing that you must do in such a situation is remove emotion. Emotions are such an interesting part of human nature, as they can find a person on an unbelievable mountainous high one moment and lower than the lowest valley on Earth the next. The emotional rollercoaster is real, but won’t help you be a professional in such a situation. Emotional outbursts are the quickest way to irrecoverably damage a professional relationship, and potentially produce lingering affects for a very long time. Always remember that it’s a very small world out there, and chances are you will need the other person’s assistance in the future.

  • Gather information about the situation

Always be sure to gather as much data as you can about the situation. Attempt to understand the reasons why something was done the way it was. Sometimes this will be nearly impossible to do fully, especially on larger projects with many others involved. Obviously we’re not omnipotent so we won’t ever truly know EVERYTHING about the issue. Categorize the information you have and review thoroughly before proceeding. If only bits and pieces of information exist, sometimes it’s best to simply start over. At the end of the day the goal is to complete the project successfully, and putting out a poor product can harm both your own professional reputation as well as your employer’s.

  • Think differently

Put yourself in the other party’s shoes. Attempt to work through the project based off input from that person to understand their thought process. No this isn’t always easy, but sometimes it might help you understand their results. If the shoe fits, no matter how stinky it might be, wear it. You never know what can happen by thinking outside of your box.

  • Respond with fact based data

Once you have gotten to this point, remember the steps above and respond only with factual data. Attempt to not make assumptions about something, or insert your opinion into the matter. If you start watching people in your life, you will quickly notice people always tend to migrate to those that have been in the same situation before for advice. Part of the wisdom those individuals possess comes from their ability to complete the previous steps in this process and objectively provide input on your situation. If you attempt to counter someone’s argument without factual data, you’ll quickly find yourself in the mud pit with them.

  • Grow

The final piece of this process is to grow. You may have been told the old adage when you were young that “practice makes perfect”. In reality this is false, as only perfect practice makes perfect, and such a “perfect” practice is realistically unachievable. I had the opportunity to see the US Navy Blue Angels fly recently, and one of the pilots made a statement with regards to their team philosophy that I think applies to the topic of accountability. The pilot stated that after each show, they spent hours evaluating the performance tapes to see what they did wrong and how to improve. They didn’t focus on what they did right. This is important for any professional to always remember. You grow by looking back at each attempt at a task to discover what was done incorrectly, and focus on how to correct and improve the next.

Hopefully these steps will help you in your professional life when dealing with a similar situation. Remember that at the end of the day, we all want what’s best and most importantly, we’re all human.

-Scott

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