Monday, September 24, 2012

Why is Accountability so Hard?

Over the last few weeks I have heard the following:

1) I wish our managers were more accountable
2) Our culture needs to move from entitled to accountable
3) One of our core values is accountability, but we still can't reach our goals and objectives

Why is holding people responsible and accountable for their actions/goals so hard?   It must be because organizations have a hard time persuading employees and managers to be accountable.

I guess, I have come to the conclusion that accountability is just plain hard to do.

That begs the question....why is that?

Here are some theories I have, please feel free to contribute:

1) Accountability requires difficult conversations sometimes and difficult conversations are problematic at work, so manager avoid having those conversations.

2) Goals are handed down to employees without any input or direction from employees so they do not feel they "own" the goals.

3) Alignment of goals is hard work.  Key systems like performance management and the feedback process have to be up to date and effective for alignment to occur.

4) It's the blame game.  Office politics and egos force managers/employees to point the finger rather than take responsibility for actions/lack of actions.

5) Accountability has not been a part of the culture.  In some organizations accountability is not a value that the culture contains.  Post recession companies have realized accountability is a must for survival and high performance.

Here is a question, I had just a few weeks ago:

What can be done to instill accountability if an organization is just starting to move in that direction.

Great question but a hard question.  I believe leadership has to tell a story of why accountability is so important and what is going to be different.  Employees find it hard to change if they don't know the reason for the change.

Next, the organizational infrastructure, processes, and practices have to be aligned for accountability.  This step is the hard part.  So for example, if the performance appraisal process has just been a "check the box" exercise, more emphasis and work has to be focused on performance management.

Successes need to be rewarded and communicated to send the message that accountability works.  Reinforcement of the message has to come often and consistently.

Accountability doesn't happen over night, it takes hard work and commitment.  It takes leadership modeling what accountability looks like on a daily basis.  It takes HR making sure goals and objectives are aligned and tracked.

Accountability doesn't just happen by's a process.


Sean Conrad said...

Hi Cathy,great article!

I love this part:

" I believe leadership has to tell a story of why accountability is so important and what is going to be different. Employees find it hard to change if they don't know the reason for the change."

That is the best explanation I have heard for what I have sometimes struggled to express. Thanks.

I would add that leadership needs to follow up by holding everyone around them accountable. It's amazing how fast a culture can change when they communicate the reasons effectively as you note, and they immediately begin holding their direct reports accountable. This type of change starts at the top, but the good news is it can change very quickly when you get it right.

Unknown said...

Hi Sean:

Thanks for reading and your awesome feedback.

I so agree leadership has to hold their direct reports accountable and then they have to hold their directs accountable until we get to the front line.

I know you experience this stuff on a daily basis with your clients at my fave company Halogen!

Have a great week-

PS: Ready to guest post again????

Jade said...

Thanks Cathy - this post is a great reminder to continue to display and reinforce accountability in the workplace. It is essential that business owners understand how to model accountability in order for employees to embody the same trait. Here is a piece to complement your post on achieving success through accountability- it's a very useful resource and you'll find that many of our concepts relate.

Jade A.

Unknown said...

Jade thanks for reading and your comments.

Unknown said...

Several years ago while doing research for a training piece on accountability, I discovered the book, "The Power of Personal Accountability" by Mark Samuel and Sophie Chiche. (It's been updated and republished as "Making Yourself Indispensable – The Power of Personal Accountability".) It has changed the way I view accountability and may help answer the question of why it is so hard.

In his book, Mark Samuel defines accountability as “taking action consistent with your desired outcome”. This revolutionary definition means that accountability is about making choices; it’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. In other words, it’s a personal decision.

In my role as a Business Consultant to highly performing companies, I often hear managers or executives say “they want people to be more accountable”. They state their desired outcome clearly and then they are ready to “hold people accountable”. What they really mean is that they want people to do their part in achieving the company’s desired outcomes.

After reading Samuel’s book, I became aware that we can’t hold other people accountable (in fact, I don’t use the term anymore) because accepting accountability is a personal and individual decision. “Holding people accountable” subtly communicates a search for those who aren’t accountable along with some associated punishment. When accountability is viewed as the potential for assessing blame or failure, it is no wonder people avoid wanting to “accept” accountability. In contrast, when accountability is viewed as the power each individual possess to make a choice, the potential for achievement and trust are unlimited.

All of the suggestions you made above are helpful systems and tactics for enhancing organizational accountability. I believe it must start with our understanding that the decision to be accountable lies with each individual person and can’t be forced.

- Sue Bingham, Founder and Principal of HPWP Consulting, Rome, GA