The Oxford English Dictionary defines responsibility as “The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something”, and action as “The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim, or to act or do something official or concerted to achieve an aim or deal with a problem”.
The question is, how can we take responsibility for our actions?
All responsibility, even if it ultimately relates to business or politics, individual responsibility for individual actions. Not that we’re set a great example. How often have you come across a public figure who justifies an unacceptable comment or tweet by claiming they “didn’t mean” to say it? You’re not convinced either?
One problem is that, if you won’t take responsibility for the negatives, no-one’s going to give you any credit for the positives, either. Taking responsibility for your actions is crucial for your integrity, and without being recognised as having integrity, you’ll have an uphill struggle to succeed in business.
Responsibility in Business
It’s easy enough to recognise when giant businesses are being irresponsible. We hear about it all the time on the news, whether they’re cheating their customers, mistreating their employees, damaging the environment, or using shady methods to get out of paying tax.
It’s not only big corporations that make the news, though, which need to act responsibly. SMEs, and even one-man-bands, also have responsibilities. Some are legally binding, such as complying with data protection and health and safety regulations — and complying with HMRC, of course.
In a way, those are the easy responsibilities, because what you’re expected to do is laid out somewhere. Far less defined, but just as crucial, is to deal with your clients, employees and anyone else you come into contact with honestly and with integrity.
So how can a business be proactive in taking responsibility for its actions? One way is to build guarantees and safeguards into your business model that make it clear you won’t be able to make excuses for any failings. To take a simple example, the fact that I work on a “no win, no fee” basis is telling my customers I take responsibility if I should fail — even if I could reasonably argue it wasn’t my fault.
In the end, perhaps the best guide is the classic “Golden Rule” — treat others as you’d wish to be treated. And that includes taking the responsibility you’d want others to.