What is an Accountable Employee?

What is an Accountable Employee?By Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
The Ethics Guy®

Accountable employees do four things consistently:

  • Keep their promises
  • Consider the consequences of their actions
  • Accept responsibility for their mistakes
  • Make amends for their mistakes

Let’s take a look at the last two.

Taking Responsibility for Mistakes

The head of the marketing department was furious. “I want Brad fired — now!” he yelled to Geri, a human resources specialist with a large pharmaceutical company. Brad worked in the mailroom, and, during his rounds delivering the mail, he had made a threatening remark to an employee. Brad’s career could have come to an abrupt end that day, but Geri didn’t want to move so quickly.

She invited Brad and two witnesses to come to her office to discuss the matter. “Did you really tell someone in sales, ‘You better watch your back?’” she asked. Brad denied it several times. After several uncomfortable moments of silence, he asked, “Um, can you please open the window?” Geri could see that he was troubled by the proceedings. “OK, yes, I said it, but I didn’t mean anything by it,” Brad admitted. “ I wasn’t actually going to hurt the guy I said it to.”

Geri came from a sales background and prided herself on being able to read people well. She believed that Brad was sincere and that letting him go would be a mistake. She told him, “Maybe you didn’t mean anything by what you said, but you have to understand that saying ‘You better watch your back’ can seem threatening to the person on the other end. You can’t talk like that if you want to work here.”

“You’re right,” Brad said.  “I take full responsibility for what I did.”  But he went further than that.

 Making Amends

Geri told me that Brad had come from a troubled background but that she saw him as a “a sweet fellow underneath a gruff exterior.” The reason the head of marketing wanted Brad fired, Geri believed, was not so much the remark Brad had made as the way he looked — like a guy who’d had a hardscrabble life. Geri’s success in HR is due in no small part to the fact that she refuses to judge a book by its cover.

Brad volunteered to apologize to the person he’d scared and vowed never to repeat the behavior. He pleaded with Geri to be allowed to keep his job. Geri agreed on the condition that Brad take an anger-management course. That couldn’t have been an easy thing for Brad to do, but he did it. Now, every time he runs into Geri, he thanks her profusely for helping him become a better employee — and a better person. Recently, Brad was voted Employee of the Month, and he views the incident that set all of this in motion as a turning point in his professional and personal development.

By taking responsibility for his actions, making the necessary amends, and growing from the experience, Brad has demonstrated that he is one of the Good Ones. But so is Geri, who had faith in Brad and knew that it would it be a mistake to let him go. Too many of us take others at face value. Fortunately, people like Geri are willing to fight for employees like Brad who accept responsibility for their mistakes and take steps to move beyond them.

This essay, adapted from my latest book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character Employees, is the second entry in a series of ten blog posts called What is a High Character Employee? The first post was What is an Honest Employee? Next time we’ll examine the question, “What is a caring employee?”

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Dr. Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy®, presents high-content, interactive ethics talks that show why being ethical is cool—and profitable. Download a summary of his presentations here.  Watch excerpts from his keynote speeches here.  Book him to speak to your organization here.  Call him at 646.649.4501.