When was the last time you attended a business meeting where people complained that employees are just too darn accountable for business results?
Such a question probably makes you laugh, because the typical conversation at work centers on finding better ways to "hold them accountable." In most organizations, people spend vast amounts of time and energy creating systems and processes to make sure work gets done.
An underlying assumption of "holding others accountable" is a belief that people will not choose accountability without formal systems, reminders, consequences and incentives aimed at "making sure" they do. It also belies the impossibility of holding others accountable without their full consent.
Accountability is absolutely essential to success in any endeavor -- whether it's personal relationships or a business enterprise. But what kind of business culture gets created when accountability is seen as something that must be coerced, cajoled, or incentivized?
When holding "them" accountable is the goal, the logical next step is to see "them" as tools used to accomplish a task. If it is acceptable to see people as tools, it is acceptable to manipulate them in the name of "getting things done." This erodes trust, creates dysfunctional (parent-child) relationships and discourages creativity and critical-thinking.
What might be possible if we shifted the traditional frame organizations have put around accountability? Try to imagine an organization where:
- People began seeing accountability as the individual choice that it is
- Employees thoroughly understood the business, what is at stake in the marketplace and how what they do contributes to succes
- Leaders engaged employees in determining what they need to effectively serve stakeholders
- Conversations focused on an individual's willingness to be accountable
- Managers continually asked employees what support, training or development they need to be truly accountable
Where does accountability start? First, with individual choice, then with the knowledge, skills and sense of purpose that helps you take meaningful action that benefits the good of the whole.