Walking Your Talk: Creating a Culture of Accountability

Originally published in Golf Business Canada,Summer 2019, Vol. 23, Issue 2.

What do close-knit families, high-performing sports teams and successful organizations—including golf courses—have in common?

They regard accountability as one of pillars upon which they stand.

When accountability is practised with intention and mindfulness, it is a powerful and positive process. It is an aspirational force.

(Click here to see a video of me extolling the virtues of accountability, and see details on my accountability workshops.)

Accountability supports people in their personal and professional lives to take action in pursuing their goals. Moreover, accountability strengthens relationships in all organizations, from corporations to nine-hole golf courses to families.

Where there is accountability, people trust each other, communicate clearly, feed off shared energy, and work cooperatively toward shared outcomes.

When you’re willing to be accountable, you walk your talk. And if you don’t, you clean up your mess. That’s it.

So how do we engrain and sustain a healthy culture of accountability in a golf course operation?

ACCOUNTABILITY STARTS AT THE TOP

Accountability starts at the top. It requires a mature, conscious person who has the character traits of discernment, responsibility and awareness. They are also the key attributes of a leader.

Accountability can be said to be a process and a skill. It can be taught and learned, but it must be modeled.

If you want to build a high-performing team, then you must be a high performer. Accountability starts with the senior leader(s) in your organization; people who hold themselves accountable, and have the willingness and courage to have difficult conversations.

If members of your team get even a whiff that you fail to hold yourself to account, then you’re scuppered from the get-go. 

DEFINING ACCOUNTABILITY

Here’s a definition of personal accountability that I’ve borrowed from the ManKind Project:

Accountability is taking 100% responsibility for my actions and their consequences, whether intended or unintended.

That’s a powerful statement with two key sections. First off, when I take full responsibility for my actions, it’s affirming and empowering. There’s no excuses, no buck passing. When I am solely responsible for my actions, I move with intention and consciousness. It doesn’t mean I’m a martyr. It means I’m taking charge of my life.

Secondly, when I take responsibility for the consequences of my actions, it means I am fully conscious of the impact that my actions have—on others and myself. And sometimes, there will be unintended consequences. You might think that’s unfair—‘Hey, I didn’t mean that to happen!’—but I’m still responsible. That keeps me conscious.

MAKING CHOICES

Here’s the other key piece around taking responsibility—it’s a choice.

Every thing we do is based on choice. When someone makes an excuse, saying, ‘I didn’t have enough time to get it done,’ that is a false statement. If I don’t get something done, it means that I made other choices.

Why is taking responsibility for my actions and choices important? Because we can control only one person. Ourselves. The best we can do with others is to influence them.

If leaders take full responsibility for their actions and their consequences, they will absolutely nail the first and most important part of accountability—being accountable themselves.

AGREEMENTS ARE THE FOUNDATION

When I hold myself accountable, I am asking, ‘Have I kept the commitments that I made to myself?’

But when I make a commitment to someone, especially when we have an interdependent relationship, I have entered into an agreement. Agreements provide a foundation for accountability.

Just like in families and in organizations, people struggle to communicate clearly from time to time. Quite often, one person has a different idea of what’s expected.

I’ll often hear managers talk about the importance of ‘setting expectations.’ But I believe the phrase should be banished from the work place. Expectations are a beliefthat something will happen. Expectations are subjective, prone to change and often vague.

With expectations, there’s no concrete foundation for accountability. Expectations tend be grey. Accountability is black and white. Was something done? Or not? That’s the beauty of accountability. It’s solid.

This definition explains why agreements should be the basis for your commitments to others:

An agreement is a negotiated arrangement between parties on a course of action.

When two people—or a person with a group, or one group to another—enter into an agreement, both parties have discussed, negotiated and, ideally, come to a thorough understanding of what they’ve agreed upon.

That can range from an agreement to show up on time for a back-shop shift, to an agreement to lower labour costs in the turf department, to hitting a target number of corporate tournaments in a season.

COMMITMENT IS KEY

When I have entered into an agreement, I have committed to it. This is important because commitment is the engine of accountability. It provides the energy that leads to the action that will satisfy the agreement. Without action, goals are just dreams.

Making a commitment is like putting your stake in the ground. When you make a commitment, you are putting your reputation on the line; ethical people don’t want to let others down. Unfortunately, we let ourselves down more often than others, which is why sharing your personal commitments with other people is a powerful incentive; you don’t want to let them or yourself down.

A commitment that leads to action is not fuzzy. It is SMART. That is, it is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. It’s crucial that a commitment be realistic and has a deadline.

Only commit to things you know you can deliver on. Ensure you can deliver on it so you can savour the win. Or work into your agreement thatdoingyour best’isthe agreement. Even in accountability, sometimes you need to exercise discernment. Exercised mindfully, it is not without reason or compassion.

Here’s a commitment formula: I commit to _______ by ________. (I commit to ‘what’ by ‘date.’)

Sample commitments include:

  • I commit to going to the gym four times for a minimum of 20 minutes during the next seven days.
  • I commit to delivering my draft for the F&B training manual to the GM by March 1.

ACCOUNTABILITY ENHANCES RELATIONSHIPS

Accountability also enhances and repairs relationships when they run on rocky ground, as all relationships do.

All organizations depend on healthy relationships. At a golf course, everyone from the owner to the head professional to the back-shop kid is interdependent on each other. When we execute on our agreements, those relationships are healthy and we move toward our shared outcomes. 

If agreements are not kept, the operational machinery breaks down. If it happens repeatedly, people can distrust one another, become resentful, and stop communicating. Deadlines are missed, service levels drop, and the business sags.

Most people have good intentions, but … people screw up; they engage in self-sabotaging behaviours, they suffer addictions, they do things that don’t seem to make sense. Things get messy. Hey, we’re humans. We’re flawed. Stuff happens.

Accountability has a healing and empowering quality when practiced with intention. But it is inescapable. If we wish to work and live in integrity—and live according to our commitments—then a conversation must be had when agreements are not kept.

AGREEMENT BREAKDOWNS

Usually, the leader initiates the conversation, but not always. These conversations can be awkward and difficult, but it’s crucial that they occur. Otherwise, you don’t have an accountability culture. (These conversations become easier over time, and, ironically, they invariably lead to more trust and better communication.)

But the conversation is not shaming or accusatory. Instead, you can use a process called Support Accountability in which the person is led through a series of questions that provide an opportunity for self-discovery and learning.

The questions are posed in a non-judgmental manner:

  • What was the agreement?
  • What choice did you make?
  • What is the impact on you?
  • What is the impact on others?
  • How is this like your other patterns?

By answering the questions, the person performs a self-examination based on the original agreement. Notice how the questions do not provide an opportunity to rationalize or tell stories, although some people may still do that. If they do, keep asking a question until the person answers it (or you believe you’ve gone as far as you can).

It’s crucial that you are not judgmental. It’s their process. If you insert your judgments, you stop the learning process. Just ask the questions and be a great listener, and the person will likely come to some important self-discoveries, which is the intention.

When that process is complete—if it’s practical—you can renegotiate the agreement, and a new SMART commitment is declared.

You may initiate an accountability discussion, but the person, in essence, facilitates him or herself, which is always far more valuable than outside-in direction. Given that most people are inherently decent and want to honour their relationships, they will usually note they have fallen short and re-commit. If not, perhaps that person is not a fit for your organization. It happens.

CULTURE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Developing a culture of accountability in your golf business creates a positive and united workplace that delivers a solid golf experience to your members and guests.

It also creates opportunities for personal growth and a sense of wellbeing for your staff in their personal and professional lives.

Creating a culture of accountability is a commitment to living with vitality, integrity and to strengthening your business.

If your business or club is struggling with accountability, I facilitate the Walk Your Talk Workshops and provide coaching that get results.

Contact me via tim@oconnorgolf.ca or call 519.835.5939 and I can provide you with a preview.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and life coach, an award-winning writer, Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He is author of the newly released second edition of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He is co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and a leader in training in the ManKind Project. He gets all excited when he helps people tap into their brilliance.

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