Practicing Accountability and Co-Accountability in the Creative Department

By Kiirsten May written about 9 months ago

This month, all of our Think Shift bloggers are writing about accountability. It's a popular topic around here. When you have an organization of this size that empowers employees and teaches personal leadership, people make decisions quickly and move projects forward with their own volition. You need a system to keep all the eager beavers focused on building the same dam. That system is accountability and its good-looking cousin co-accountability.

While our chairman Balaji Krishnamurthy wrote about accountability and co-accountability previously, I want to refresh it with some examples from the creative department. 

Accountability – The internal contract you make with yourself.

As a member of the creative department, I’m responsible for developing ad concepts. When I take on a project, I make a promise to come up with a campaign that will achieve the client’s goals. Now it’s time to gather my fellow beavers and start building the best damn dam this river has ever seen! For a creative, that means:

  • Asking the right questions early
  • Setting the brainstorms up for success
  • Pushing for more focus and clarity
  • Coming up with a great concept
  • Throwing it out and coming up with a better one
  • Getting lots of feedback
  • Fighting the fear that tells you to water it down
  • Pushing past project fatigue
  • Taking every opportunity to make touch points great

If the campaign succeeds, it’s my success. And if the campaign fails, it’s my fault. It’s not the fault of the account exec, not the fault of the media planner, not the fault of the designer, not the fault of the developer. I held myself accountable to doing my part to build the best damn dam, and the other beavers held themselves accountable to the same, right?

Co-accountability – The verbal contract you make with others.

Co-accountability means calling out a co-worker when he doesn’t fulfill his responsibilities. It’s the hard part of the accountability system because it’s uncomfortable. It's hard to tell someone that he didn't keep his word. It’s easier to make excuses: He’s very busy; he has a lot on his plate; he’ll probably get to it soon; I should do it for him.

It’s even more uncomfortable to hold your boss accountable. Do any of these excuses sound familiar? I’m in no position to tell my boss that she messed up; someone else will probably talk to her about this; her time is more important than mine, so I shouldn’t interrupt her; I should just do it for her.

Without co-accountability, accountability is just a nice idea. We all slip up from time to time, and we need others to help stop the slide.

Give others the authority to hold you accountable.

Eager beavers, say to your team, “This project is important, so if you see me falling short, please tell me.”

Boss beavers, say to your direct reports, “You’re important, so if you see me falling short, please tell me.”

Starting a tough conversation is easy when someone has already given you an opening line: “I don’t want to give you a hard time, but you asked me to hold you accountable, so here it is.”

Most importantly, remember that holding someone accountable doesn’t mean trying to shame him. It means you care enough about his success to help him achieve it.

When we hold ourselves accountable to the commitments we make, and when we practice co-accountability with co-workers, we’ll build the best damn dam every time.