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The accountability word

Accountability, such a loaded word. We hear it all the time in organizations, “we need to hold them accountable.” Certainly, there are people and events that contribute to something that can be pretty egregious that does require action. However, most people are truly trying to do the right thing who end up taking the full brunt for many situations in which they have little if any control.

There are always multiple reasons why projects fail, good ideas fall through, deadlines are missed, and customers (internal or external) get upset. But does that responsibility always fall to the employee? Further, it seems as though the accountability idea has really become about punishment rather than dialogue and inquiry.

In a world of strictly management practices, this seems like a good idea as it puts the full range of responsibility on the employee: In a management environment, managers do not have to:

–take any responsibility for allowing bad policy or practices that obstruct generally good efforts,

–receive feedback about how their own actions, or lack thereof, are hindering success,

–move out of the way of new ideas, creativity, or innovation,

–give up a large bonus because an initiative won’t meet a deadline,

–demonstrate any deference, understanding, or compassion for events that may have been doomed to failure – and lets face it…we all know these situations do occur within organizations!

I remember working on a large-scale (statewide, multi-site location) project. In addition to the enterprise FTE, we were working with several different consultants to accomplish the project. The directors had large bonus’ riding on the completion of each deadline. Multiple efforts were made to move the first project “go-live” back a few weeks, but the operational director refused. The result: a great deal of pain, frustration, confusion, and dollar-cost was felt by the first site. The site director, not affiliated with the project, was unfortunately the one “held accountable” though he in no way had any direct influence with any of the decisions: more pain.

It’s easy for managers to point the finger, their role is to accomplish tasks through process with little regard for people. Leaders however have a different role; they accomplish things through people. Leaders step aside to ensure everyone feels supported, sometimes at personal cost to themselves. People and projects often run into obstacles. Leaders help to understand those barriers and work to correct or remove them to ensure success of the project, team members, and therefore the organization. The work of leaders is ultimately to bring success for their team members as well as the organization, all while being fiscally responsible.

Next time the “accountability” word is casually tossed about, ask four simple questions:

1) Do we fully understand the barriers and if so as leaders have we done everything within our power to remove them?

2) Have we established metrics that will benefit the whole of the organization, or are we just moving money from one budget to another?

3) Have we set our team up for success? Do they have the resources (FTE, skills, etc.) they need to be successful

4) Are they motivated in a way that is meaningful to them? Motivation is not just about money. Being actively engaged in the process through dialogue and participation can go a long way in motivating professionals than money ever can.

Of course project completion is always important. Within organizations we have important goals and initiatives to ensure the fiscal success and long-term viability of our organizations. Lets re-think how we think about accountability, its usually a two-way street.

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