Much used word but not practiced often enough in business, accountability is the simple act of taking responsibility for your actions.

In a casual discussion with someone over a drink today, we were laughing over the phrase “success has many fathers while failure is an orphan” in the context of a program that several people claimed success for. We all know people that are apparently the brains or inspiration behind successful ventures or programs of various kinds. Rarely ever do you see people owning up to something that went wrong.

This is interesting and more than just a philosophical discussion about what is ethical or the right thing to do. My personal belief is that showing accountability in the face of unpleasant circumstances is a terrific business tactic. We’ve all faced situations where things went wrong for any number of reasons and blame starts flying around. The norm in such a situation is for the client to pillory the vendor/agency and the agency to bad-mouth the client behind their back. The relationship is over, client moves on and has to restart, agency loses a customer and associated NPV as well as what may be their most important asset – their reputation.

My personal experience has been that these difficult situations are golden opportunities, never to be wasted. Most reasonable people know that bad things happen, projects go sideways, deadlines are missed and budgets exceeded. However, it is the rare person or group that owns up to what went wrong, does a timely mea culpa and talks about how to redeem themselves and move forward. Interestingly, in my experience running a marketing and technology services agency, I’ve found that some of our deepest customer relationships are with people where our projects didn’t go right to start with. What the customer valued though was our ability to own up, take charge and make amends quickly. Leading to a much greater level of trust and a longer term relationship.

It’s easy to walk away from the unpleasant situation but more fruitful to hang in there and turn things around. The rewards are significant.

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