What is Accountability Anyway?

One of the primary roles of a manager, supervisor or parent for that matter is to hold people accountable for their performance and the results that they either achieve or fail to achieve.  We hear over and over again that people must be held accountable if you want improvement.  We agree, but what is accountability anyway? Here are some real life examples of what accountability is NOT:

  • Blaming a peer when they fail to meet an important deadline
  • Making an example of an employee to discourage others from making the same mistake
  • Threatening the team during a meeting to demonstrate that you won’t tolerate “poor performance”
  • Sending out a memo to let everyone know that team members must have thick skins to keep standards from slipping
  • Writing a “strongly worded” performance evaluation to reflect your sincere disappointment with an employee’s contribution over the last few quarters
  • Giving your significant other the cold shoulder or withholding affection until they start paying attention to your needs, too
  • Sending a child to his room when he doesn’t do what he is told

Here are the common themes with all of these accountability failures:

  1. The disappointed party assumed that motivation was the cause and blamed the poor-performer for the results they observed, and
  2. The disappointed party chose to punish the poor-performer into new behavior.

This simply isn’t what effective accountability is all about.  For us, accountability is a process and it includes two basic components:

  1. Examination of the facts/reasons underlying a specific event/result -- We take the “accounting” in accountability seriously.  Without knowing exactly “why” the person didn’t meet expectations, it is virtually impossible to know how to do the next step.
  2. Applying appropriate consequences for the actions and results -- These consequences must be logically tied to the real reason behind the result if you want improvement.

In our March newsletter we will be discussing how to effectively use these two basic components to effectively hold others accountable when they fail to meet expectations.