- Talent Management
Mention the word accountability in organizations today and you’re likely to get some uncomfortable fidgeting, maybe even some rolling of the eyes. Why is that? In part it’s because of how accountability is typically positioned in organizations – it tends to only get talked about when things are going poorly. When accountability is discussed within this negative context, it becomes more about placing blame than anything else. No wonder people become uncomfortable when the “A” word is brought up – no one wants to wear what feels like a scarlet letter. But accountability is absolutely essential to achieving better performance and organizational success. This is not your mother’s version of accountability – it’s time to change the context and mindset when we talk about accountability.
If the context for accountability continues to primarily negative, organizations that attempt to increase accountability will find that their efforts have the exact opposite effect than what is intended. Imagine you’re sitting in a team meeting and the group’s leader begins the conversation with the words, “I think we need to have a discussion around accountability.” How will team members react? Because of the negative connotations typically associated with accountability, you’re likely to observe a “run for cover” or people gearing up for explaining why whatever’s wrong is not their fault.
It’s important to change the context for accountability from negative to positive. You already know how important accountability is in a team project scenario. When the team comes up with its action plan to address a business goal, everyone expects tasks to be assigned to them, and for which they will be held accountable. That’s both normal and laudable. After all, without accountability it doesn’t matter how hard you try to accomplish a goal, the effort is doomed to fail.
Instead of accountability as a reactionary damage control and blame-placing activity, it’s better to emphasize the personal responsibility aspect of accountability. But then it’s also incumbent upon the organization and its leaders to make sure that people have the tools and resources they need to succeed. In this sense, accountability is a two-way street of both personal responsibility and organizational responsibility, and there needs to be clear commitment on both sides of that equation to strive for excellence and success.
In part, accountability is an uphill battle because you’re trying to change a person’s mindset. If a person believes that they are 80% responsible for their own success and only 20% depends on factors outside their control, they’re going to work hard and get great results. It’s the people who don’t clearly link their own results to their own efforts that make excuses, blame others, curse their bad luck, and so on. You have to try to get people to understand that accountability is not about culpability; it’s about responsibility, for them and the organization.
Here are some strategies that can help your organization get accountability right:
By using strategies such as the ones listed above, organizations can begin to reframe accountability away from its traditionally negative connotations and towards a more proactive, positive context that will set the stage for personal and organizational success.