Supportive Accountability

“If only people around here were more accountable for results”... “Managers don’t hold people accountable here”…This is one of the complaints we hear frequently from both organisational leaders and staff. We all know that accountability is a key ingredient to the success of any organization. Why then does there seem to be such a widespread absence of accountability? A large part of the answer lies in the frequent misunderstanding of the word and the concept itself. Accountability is often equated with blame when things go wrong.

Often when the cry is heard “someone needs to be held accountable” it really means someone needs to be fired. Equating accountability with blame, subjecting people to negative feedback that undermines their sense of pride in their work, is counterproductive. Recent studies show that performance reviews that focus principally on blame for performance problems are de-motivational, productivity suffers for months after such a review. This is why people dread reviews and many managers avoid them.

Another factor in the absence of accountability is the theme that they (not I) aren’t accountable. Accountability seems to be something that others are lacking. It is rare indeed, that an individual thinks that they themselves are lacking in accountability. The root of the word, account gives us the first clue to the most productive definition of accountability.

Accountability is keeping an account of results produced compared to results promised. Nothing more. If an accounting is to be done, there must be clearly agreed upon Key Performance Indicators that measure a person’s effectiveness in their job. Reviewing the accounting of actual performance compared with promised performance may reveal that the person is succeeding in some areas, and failing in some areas. Black and white; no blaming, no excuses.

This objective review, of the promises a person has made sets the stage for a plan to improve performance; a coaching discussion. A system of rewards (for better than promised performance) and consequences (for worse than promised performance) can be an effective mechanism to reinforce accountability by individuals sharing in the proceeds of both successes and failures…but such a system by itself will not bring accountability about. All the above defines and describes accountability. But what about the supportive aspect? What is it that is being supported? The simple and superficial answer is the person…but the deeper answer is that person’s commitment to their goals.

When leadership engenders this level of commitment from and within people, they will embrace being held accountable for results. Effective management then becomes a natural support for the attainment of each person’s commitment. They want to make the promise because the result is important to them, and they know that having someone hold them accountable is a good way to support their personal success.

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