Mastering the Art of Creating Accountability
Accountability, in traditional environments, is about power. Who has it? How is it used? The teeth in traditional accountability is the power to reward and punish.
Accountability as pressure:
Short-sighted leaders use accountability to pressure people.
The context of pressure is resistance.
Dependence on traditional accountability suggests people are already resistant.
Accountability is drawing out the best in others.
#1. Help people excel at what they want to do, not what you’re pressuring them to do.
People need new jobs when the things they want don’t serve organizational goals.
#2. Expect people to do what they say.
Hold people accountable to the commitments they impose on themselves, not the ones you impose on them.
#3. Focus on their power, not yours, when creating accountability.
Powerful people go further than powerless.
#4. Honor follow through.
#5. Call out inconsistency.
Mediocrity prevails when inconsistency wins the day.
#6. Discuss how people are depending on each other.
#7. Clarify expectations.
Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.
Seven simple ways to create accountability:
- Reports and check-ins.
- “How is your project going,” asked at the water cooler.
- What would you like me to ask the next time we meet?
- What are you going to do next/today/this week?
- When are you taking your next step?
- What are you going to do?
Four essentials for healthy accountability:
- Shared passion to maximize talent.
- Shifts from external coercion to internal drive.
- Respect for success.
- Consequences for failure. One consequence might be removal of responsibilities.
A point of discomfort:
I’m troubled by reliance on promises and commitments. Reliance on promises suggests this time you really mean it; normally you don’t.
Accountability is about clarifying results and behaviors, not making promises.
Where does accountability go wrong?
What are the aspects of healthy accountability?
Although not addressed in this post, I believe: The greatest accountability is from the senior person to the subordinate.
If the resources and environment are not provided and designed for the subordinates’ successes, their greatest successes for the organization can not and will not occur.
Thanks Craig. One of the most neglected area of accountability is leaderships accountability. We love to talk about holding others accountable, but may not care to be held accountable.
The idea of mutual accountability fits into the model of leadership as partnership. Thank you for adding your thoughts.
Where does accountability go wrong? When we make people responsible who are not prepared for their duties, they need to be taught thoroughly before they “run with the ball”, some things are natural, but if we look at task oriented duties they needed trained before we can hold them accountable. Often times accountability falls on everyone top to bottom, failure to educate completely for their duties, unskilled individuals doing skilled tasks, demanding ridiculous schedules knowing the time frames aren’t sufficient to accomplish the tasks etc. Experience is the greatest asset for many who have learned by their mistakes and have journeyed the path of success with some failures intertwined for a bit of humility to enhance life’s challenges.
Thanks Tim. You nailed an important aspect of accountability. Capability.
Your comment is a powerful reminder that accountability is simply about others. It’s about a leader’s ability to understand people, and manage and assign resources. I’m thankful for you.
Not as much as I’m thankful for you!
That is so kind, Tim. Warmly
Great treatment of this topic and a real stand-alone leadership lesson! I have seen organizations and leaders stumble on accountability as much as or more than any other area of effectiveness. Your #7 is especially powerful and violating this principle has led to many, many failures in performance. How great it is when people hold themselves accountable and experience the reward of fulfilled expectations through creative interdependence! Thanks for another spot-on post!
Thanks Jim. In the end, the only real accountability is holding ourselves accountable.
healthy accountability ? You need to say what you think and be sure others understand what you say (7# clarify expectations). It seems so simple that sometimes we try to go faster saying only the half of our reflexion… bad habit !
Thanks Romain. Yes! It’s easy to assume everyone is on the same page. But, people hear what they are prepared to hear, not necessarily what you say.
I’m struggling with #4 and #5 of your list of ‘Seven Simple Ways to Create Accountability’:
4. What would you like me to ask the next time we meet?
5. What are you going to do next/today/this week?
Definitely for #5, I’m thinking it’s asking for too much detail; what the leader wants to hear about are the successes and concerns, not the plans moving forward. With regard to #4, it could be answered as one would answer #5, to me at least TMI.
What I interpreted / think these suggested ways to create accountability are seeking might be better phrased “What excites or concerns you as you move forward with your efforts?” Or something like that…
Thanks John. I see your point on being too detailed. I’d say you need enough detail to be able to know if the person followed through. As a coach, I’m all about being specific about small things because transformation usually begins with small stuff.
I always enjoy your insights. Thanks for your suggestions. Best
I like this one a lot…. But, given organisational constraints, it can be remarkably hard to master
Thanks Rajiv. Drucker said Most of what we call management consist of making it difficult for people to get things done.
Well, I have to say that Drucker was bang on… I think he could have said the same about Indian bureaucracy. Why make it simple?, they ask, when you can make it more difficult…..
“What would you like me to ask the next time we meet?” – Great question. I’m going to start using that!
Thanks Sachin. Best for the journey.
This treatment of accountability hits the nail right on its head. I think that accountability ought to always be mutual, and there is no “greater” accountability but rather always “shared”. I may have missed it Dan but do you also have a discussion on the difference between accountability and responsibility?
Thanks Rhon. No discussion yet on the difference between accountability and responsibility. Sounds like an interesting topic.