Having recently examined the broad concept of accountability and responsibility in the workplace, and identified its significance and importance to the overall outcome of successful business goals, the next logical step is to take the time to x-ray accountability and to see how it actually functions.
If we continue to operate on the general definition of accountability put forth in our previous blog, to wit: that accountability is the obligation of an individual or organization to be held responsible for their activities, and personally accept the responsibility for them, then we are ready for a closer look at its functionality.
Broken down, the word itself “Account – Ability” is actually rather self explanatory. It is nothing more and nothing less than the Ability to Account for previously agreed upon commitments that the individual needs to perform competently in order to fulfill their professional job obligations at the highest level of execution.
This speaks directly to a person’s attitude, morale and willingness to examine themselves in an open minded and non defensive manner. By being engaged in their work process through a prearranged agreement of accountability, employees will tend to display a natural inclination to perform to the best of their abilities and address areas of deficiency in their skills or approach to work that may have negative influence upon their capability to perform their job at peak levels. At the same time, they will also be able to recognize inherent strengths and learn how to best employ those skills within their wheelhouse.
So what does all this mean and what theory and practices are actually involved in achieving accountability? According to Klatt and Murphy, co-authors of Aligned Like a Laser, functional accountability boils down to six main operating principles.
1) Accountability is personal and not able to be shared at the same level in an organization
Although it can effectively foster teamwork – as was examined in our previous blog – accountability itself is a singularly individual obligation and agreement that cannot be co-opted by the group. Each person has their own unique contributions to offer the team as a whole and therefore must be willing and prepared to be held responsible for the successful fulfilment of duties in their particular areas of expertise. No two people occupying the same level in a company can be accountable for the same outcome.
2) Accountability exists primarily for positive business results
Accountability leads directly to goal oriented accomplishment, rather than just remaining busy throughout the day. Strategy meetings are important to manoeuvre towards business outcomes, but they are not the same as actually achieving them, such as successfully increasing traffic to a website by 25% in a given time period. “an accountability mindset leads to an outcome-centered versus an activity-centered approach to work.”
3) Accountability requires room for freedom of personal judgement (empowerment)
Possessing the freedom to exercise personal judgement concerning action and decisions related to an individual’s area of expertise is indeed a positive form of professional empowerment that has to be reinforced from leadership in a top-down manner. However, it is also a double edged sword. When a person accepts accountability for their actions, they stand to reap the rewards when things go according to plan. Accordingly, they must also be willing and able to accept responsibility in a professional manner when mistakes are made and things go awry.
4) Accountability is always unconditional (no excuses)
This entails eliminating the tendency to employ excuses in the face of failure. The practice of accomplishment must supercede the culture of excuse. Accountability means that if an individual cannot achieve a business result that falls within their area of operations, they must recognize this truth as soon as possible. It is then incumbent upon that person to suppress ego and inform leadership of the deficiency, in order to renegotiate further accountability in a timely manner. This in turn, allows others to adjust in order to be able to follow through on their individual accountabilities. Honesty, humility and clarity of communication are all essential for this method to be effective.
5) Accountability is primary for the organization as a whole and belongs to everyone
An overarching practice of cooperation and teamwork is without question, critical to the successful achievement of an organization’s business goals. The most fundamental individual accountability is employed, ultimately for the good of the whole. Successful companies should expect every employee – from leadership to the new hire – to be able to contribute their best efforts professionally, in order to assist in helping to realize the organization’s goals.
6) Accountability is founded on a fair business bargain freely agreed upon by all parties involved
This also speaks to honesty and clarity of communication. When engaging in accountability negotiations, both parties need to be acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Leadership should not seek unreasonable performance from their people (ie: 100% production at 100% quality). At the same time, it is the responsibility of the employee to own up to any conditions of accountability that they know they cannot fulfill. Honesty regarding lack of experience or skills required to achieve a specific business goal is much better addressed up front, rather than following preventable failure.
“There can be no genuine accountability without articulation, negotiation and agreement on the positive consequences that an individual can expect to receive for successfully delivering agreed upon business results.”
Accountability then, which at first glance seems to be a rather simplistic concept, is in practice, much more complicated and involved than one may have imagined. If an organization wishes to implement personal accountability in order to achieve effective, professional business goals, all individuals involved must be willing to set aside some personal idiosyncrasies, pride and self-delusion in order to take responsibility for their individual areas of operation and become accountable for their part in the overall success of a company.
If we permit the analogy that the above operating principles represent a six person sports team, then these players need a stadium to play in. That stadium is the trust-based environment or culture that first needs to be built with bricks of trust in order for any accountability process to sustain itself. Integro Performance Group provides the trust-based architecture to accomplish this.