Workplace Accountability - What Is It Anyway?

When we ask managers to tell us what the most difficult aspect of their job is, they many times say it is “holding other people accountable for poor performance”. When we ask them what the most important aspect of their job is, they many times say that it is “holding other people accountable for poor performance”.

So accountability is both difficult and important.

For this reason, we have decided to focus on various aspects of workplace accountability, including how to do it, in our 2014 newsletter series.

What is accountability?

We will begin our discussion this month by examining what accountability is and what it isn’t.

How many times have you heard a politician say that a government official must be held accountable for failure to manage his/her responsibilities effectively? What they really mean is that the government official should be fired for failing to do his/her job the way that the politician thinks it should be done.

Accountability is, therefore, often associated with negative consequences for failure. While this is certainly a possible outcome of the accountability process, it is certainly NOT the purpose of the process.

So, accountability is NOT simply punishing someone for failure.

As we will discuss in more detail in our October newsletter, positive feedback for success is also an important component of the accountability process.

Accountability actually involves an examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result (accounting) followed by the application of appropriate consequences for those actions and results in an attempt to more predictably have success going forward.

In other words, accountability involves first the identification of the failure or success, followed by an examination of the underlying reasons for the failure/success and then the determination of the appropriate consequences to help sustain the success or eliminate the failure in the future.

Complex Environments

This involves evaluating and understanding actions and results in light of a complex environment that includes:

We have used the term local rationality in some of our other articles to describe why it makes sense for a person to do something that may not seem logical to someone who is either observing performance or evaluating the result after the fact. While we will discuss the components of this “Contextual Causation Model” in a future newsletter, it is important here to understand that people fail and/or succeed for a multitude of reasons and unless we understand those reasons from the person’s context, we will fail at the accountability process.

The next 11 months

We are looking forward to examining this critical set of skills over the next 11 issues of the newsletter and we hope you will join us for the discussion. If you have ever failed to hold another person accountable for failure then you might want to join us next month as we discuss the psychological reasons for not speaking up when we should.