Have you ever been held Accountable for a process or a specific outcome that left you feeling less than good? Did it hurt? Were you confused, dazed and/or nauseous? Did the experience leave you disillusioned, demoralized or damaged?
Well then, what you experienced wasn’t Accountability at all. It is more likely that you were being unfairly blamed for something you were not fully aware of and/or, responsible for. It was not Accountability; because Accountability shouldn’t hurt.
Unfortunately, and often unintentionally for many people, being held Accountable can feel like being scapegoated, set-up, hung out to dry or thrown under the bus.
This post attempts to simplify and renegotiate our understanding of Accountability so that the experience of that value in operation can be affirming and meaningful. Offered here, is a simple and highly practical assessment, to be certain of how and who to hold accountable.
Accountability must be something we strive for, not something we avoid or run and hide from.
The Dilemma – A Good Thing Gone Wrong
Accountability is one of the most common organizational values critical for enhancing integrity, building trust and moving both people and companies forward. However, it is not the value itself per se, but the experience of the value in action, that determines whether integrity and trust are fortified or, placed in jeopardy.
In theory, Accountability is something we should all strive for. It is simple, straightforward and admirable; when in operation Accountability inspires people and groups to build and sustain greater capacity and best results.
However, Accountability continues to exist as both an elusive and confusing phenomenon. Unintentionally and unfortunately Accountability has taken on a less-than-positive experience and for many people Accountability feels more like blame and/or punishment; unlike anything most people would say was honorable.
The Costs – They are MASSIVE
As stated in the post, Paving the Road to Wellness: Purpose, Values and the Leaders’ Role, value-incongruence, results from value confusion and value misalignment; representing a monster employee engagement killer. The cost to employees and organizations overall are massive.
While the costs are vast, negatively impacting employee morale, engagement, climate, company culture and results, it is the reason behind the costs that should concern us most.
Because human beings are wired for safety; to protect themselves and those they care for, it follows then that people will avoid confusing and negative experiences and, will place their time, efforts and energies into keeping themselves safe, rather than developing themselves and/or moving the organization further. Especially if doing so, involves taking unclear and/or “unsafe” risks.
So, when Accountability is experienced as confusing and uncomfortable, it is more likely that people will avoid Accountability, rather than approach it.
If the current state; a confusing and exceptionally uncomfortable experience of “Accountability” continues to persist, all human beings and the organizations they work for, will not come close to realizing, never mind achieving their full potential.
The Solution – Change the Experience and Change the Outcome
The good news is that changing a person’s experience of Accountability is 100% within our control.
When we make the value and the experience of Accountability positive, affirming and meaningful, we will minimize suffering and optimize human and organizational potential towards the greatest possibilities.
The following steps are intended to renegotiate the meaning and subsequent experience of Accountability:
- Admit and Embrace the Reality
If we can’t be honest about what we need to change, then it will never change. It’s time to admit that most people experience Accountability as less than positive or meaningful. This month alone we talked with more than 200 managers in corporate and human services. We asked, “Have you ever been held accountable for something wherein your experience ranged from not-so-positive to absolutely horrible. 100% answered “yes!”. We’re done asking. It’s time to do something about it.
- Acknowledge that It’s Not Your Fault
One of the most difficult things to do is admit that we are not living up to or in step with our values and what we say is important. However, it is easier to be more open to the idea, when we know that it is not totally our fault. In future articles, we will propose and clearly demonstrate that we’ve never been taught and/or supported to operationalize important values, in practice, as leaders. So, we can’t be responsible for something we are not aware…. However, we are now aware and, must do something about it.
- Simplify Accountability and Follow Through
Accountability means to take responsibility and/or account for one’s actions. An important piece that is missing in this simple concept of Accountability is the WHO and WHAT are guiding the actions? Where do the directives come from? Are they clear? Do they make sense? To whom are we being accountable to and, for what?
Accountability should be derived from, built on and guided by the purpose, priorities and values of the organization; this is why they exist and why they must be more than just words on the wall. They are there for practical and functional reasons also.
Therefore, Accountability is only truly possible if the people expected to act and/or behave in a certain way can answer two very important questions:
- What ‘s the Point of This?
- Why Should I do It in This Way?
What’s the point is the question that is connected to the “what”; the purpose, objectives and priorities of a specific function or set of functions within a role/job. The term purpose-critical refers to activities that are critical for moving the organization forward towards preferred outcomes. Every person must be able to answer the question, “what’s the point of this task?”. If there is no point, well…. then there is no point.
Most employees who can answer this question on their own, or with the help of their leader, will see the value in the task that they are expected to do and, in most cases will get it done. We encourage leaders, when asked, “what’s the point of this?” by their direct reports, to refrain from answering with responses like, “because I said so”, or “that’s the way we do things around here” or “because I had to do it when I was in that role.” These responses are not helpful, because they have no meaning. They are absent of insight or guidance and subsequently are not motivating for anyone.
Why should I do it in this way is the question that is connected to the “how” we are expected to carry out the specific action or set of actions. The “how” is tied to the vision and values of the department and/or organization or, at least should be. Values are referred to as “Guiding” for this very reason. Values provide fuel as passion to purpose and can be potent sources of motivation and engagement for most employees.
In the post, Paving the Road to Wellness: Purpose, Values and the Leaders’ Role, a case is made for leaders to know and leverage Key Values to enhance employee meaning, motivation and optimal performance. When people understand the purpose, and meaning tasks hold, they perform with sharp focus, maximum effort and enhanced efficiency.
Both questions above must be answered if we are going to succeed at holding people Accountable in a manner that is affirming, holds value and has meaning for all involved.
Accountability Starts with Leaders
As leaders, it is critical for members to have clear expectations and understanding on the WHAT and the HOW. If members are not clear on both important items, then in actuality, we will be attempting to hold the wrong person accountable. The person(s) we should be holding accountable is us.
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