Paul Raggio | A portrait of accountability

Paul Raggio

I’m a fan of the popular TV series “Yellowstone.” Kevin Costner plays the fictional patriarch, John Dutton, owner of the largest ranch in the United States located in Montana. The drama is about the Dutton family operating a cattle ranch sharing land borders with the Broken Rock Indian reservation and a greedy California land development company wanting to build a high-end resort. Every episode is a portrait of accountability. Family, ranch-hand, corporate, civic, and societal responsibility, or irresponsibility, play out in the hour-long episode. Each party in the drama seeks justice, accountability and consequences for the infringements caused by others.  

Our justice system centers on the principle of accountability. We hear this word a lot in our daily life. In addition to “Yellowstone,” tune into a talking head on one of the cable news networks and demands of accountability by opposing panelists play to their base and generate ratings. Accountability means taking ownership and being responsible for your actions and the resultant outcomes caused by them. It certainly can be considered virtuous if you are accountable, and most would agree it’s a necessary attribute of good character. Trust, loyalty and stability rely on accountability, the glue to wholesome relationships and abundant cultures. The absence of accountability creates mistrust, betrayal and chaos, the death toll of any relationship and culture.   

Standards and accountability go hand in glove. Standards are rules or criteria we’re to abide by. Without standards, accountability is hollow. When two or more people engage, standards dictate their behaviors and performance expectations. If you choose to deviate from them, you own the good or bad consequences. Without the standard, there is no accountability. Without accountability, there is chaos. Standards must be clear and understood by persons expected to abide by them. Those that create the standard must communicate, train if necessary, and verify the standard is understood by the people accountable for meeting or exceeding it and then enforce it while emplaced.  

Visualize a multilane intersection with no traffic lights or signs, cars driving in all directions, and pedestrians trying to cross. Gridlock occurs because there is no standard. This image is an accident waiting to happen, and if one does, which party to the accident would be accountable? We often see companies with poorly defined or unreasonable behavior and performance standards, and without clear, well-defined and publicized standards, your workplace may be like this intersection. And if it is, productivity gridlocks just as traffic and pedestrians would because standards and accountability are lacking.   

Company values are behavior standards adopted by an organization. Every company should clarify, document, publish and reinforce these values with pride and enthusiasm, announcing to all who work for or do business with the company this is how they will behave. Performance standards control the team’s workflow. Every company, so too, should establish and document workflow performance standards, train the workforce on the procedures to meet or exceed the standards, and then enforce them. These standards create efficiencies, eliminate chaos and provide clarity to the force.  

Great companies know that accountability to the leaders, workforce, customers and community is the pulse of a dynamic organizational culture. Envision a work environment that absolves you of unintentional mistakes and encourages you to take ownership of your actions. Creativity, initiative and transparency flow through the team, and productivity soars. Meeting and exceeding standards is the norm. Conversely, imagine if accountability was absent and your leader and teammates in the organization shifted blame to others. Standards are lacking or unenforced, and the company’s constituency finds another business to support. Morale plummets, chaos ensues and your top performers leave. Productivity drops and the company spirals downward. 

John Dutton, the Yellowstone enterprise, and the other parties in the TV production all have prescribed standards, some ill-chosen, unreasonable, or irrational and others blurred. Of course, holding nemeses accountable to the Dutton standards is what makes the TV drama so compelling and exciting to watch! However, you can do without the Yellowstone drama in your workplace by establishing clear and reasonable standards and holding yourself and the people in the organization accountable to meet or exceed them. Owning what you do and having others own what they do, whether in the family, friends, workplace, or community, is how you build trust, loyalty and stability.  

Your company will thrive when trust, loyalty and stability born through accountability, exists. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now, let’s get after it.  

Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].      

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