Accountability: a privilege or burden?

Accountability: a privilege or burden?

Accountability, like Empowerment and Ownership became a management fad in the early 2000s. And, like Empowerment and Ownership, in most organizations Accountability has become a hollow and empty slogan that prompts eye-rolling and sarcastic comments. People often wave the “A” word around when they want others to get things done or more regularly when they are frustrated with others for not getting things done. However, in my thirty-plus years of working with organizations I haven’t seen either make a difference.

The intention behind this concept has always been pure and noble: To create an environment that supports people to be clear and honest about what they will deliver and encourages them to do what they say they will. Accountability has always had the intent and flavor of enabling people to rise above challenging circumstances and overcome obstacles. It has always been about substituting excuses and justifications with relentless action that achieves clear results.

Unfortunately, in most organizations people turned Accountability into something unconstructive. When people say: “They need to take accountability!” they often mean: “They need to deliver or bare the consequence.” And, by bare the consequence they mean “be punished”, or often more specifically “be fired.”

In fact in many organizations Accountability is referred to as “Single throat to choke”. Are you surprised why people would not be excited to volunteer to be that single throat to choke?

Webster’s doesn’t help either. Its definition of Accountability is: “Liability to be called on to render an account; the obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected.”

But, Accountability was meant to represent a positive and productive space; encouraging people to believe in the cause and feel personally compelled to go out of their way to drive progress and results. It is supposed to encourage people at all levels of an organization to behave as if they are the owners of the business.

Accountability comes from the phrase “You can count on me”. And, that statement is a self-proclamation. It stems from and evokes the sentiment of privilege and opportunity, not obligation and/or liability.

When people view Accountability as a burden and/or liability it provokes the wrong behavior. In fact, in most organizations the default mode around Accountability is one of fear.

In an environment of fear people play it safe, they hold back, they don’t speak up, they don’t take risks, they protect themselves. And, when things go wrong they are quick to excuse themselves and blame others. They miss the opportunity to learn from failures for a better future.

All this is 100% the opposite of what Accountability was supposed to be!

Any strategy or plan is only as good as people’s relationship with it. Creating a genuine environment of Accountability goes a long way to enable people at all levels to establish a powerful relationship to their company or team’s strategy or plan.

In my next blog I’ll write about how to create a culture of genuine Accountability – the way it was meant to be.

In fact, I will share: Five practical things leaders or managers could do in order to create and sustain an environment of authentic and effective Accountability.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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