The New Accountability
"Working for an organization should be an adventure, not an anxious discipline
in which everybody is constantly graded for performance"
Do you know what you're accountable for? Do you need to have your boss constantly remind you of what you have 'promised' to deliver? Do you get that churning feeling when you are doing your annual goal setting or having your performance appraised at the end of the year? Do you make promises at the beginning of the year to deliver outcomes that you have little or no control over? Do you want, as Milton Saperstein put it, to 'have an adventure' rather than being constantly graded for performance?
With the recent spate of accounting scandals in North America, the great 'accountability' debate has heated up. Much of the dysfunctional behavior we have witnessed in these scandals can I believe be traced back to two sources:
1. The erroneous belief that a leader, or anyone for that matter, can 'predict' and commit to delivering outcomes that he or she has little control over. This pressures leaders to take shortcuts and yes, even 'rig the results'.
2. Tying salary and bonuses to performance, and using it to motivate performance, when performance is difficult if not impossible to accurately measure and assign cause and effect relationship to. This encourages people to 'fudge the results', using whatever mechanisms are at their disposal to protect their personal interests.
The net result is that in organizations of all types, both public and private, the nature of the game is to 'look good', with massive amounts of data being collected and used to 'prove' rather than to 'improve'.
Is there a better way to hold people accountable? In attempting to answer this question, consider the following comparisons of key characteristics of the traditional accountability versus what I call the new accountability:
Changing to the new accountability requires a change in culture. It is possible to change an organizational culture, but it requires champions who have a lot of courage, patience and persistence. Are you up to the task?
If you are, start by discussing the characteristics above with your work colleagues, and seeing where your organization fits. Are there some erroneous premises in use? What would it take to change them?
Some changes can happen fairly quickly. One organization I worked with surveyed their employees on their pay for performance system and were told quite bluntly that it was actually a de-motivator and detracted from performance. They changed the whole system around and achieved an immediate improvement in morale and results.
The new accountability reflects the new reality...a world that is changing rapidly, where information moves at lightning speed, where shared knowledge and wisdom are the true drivers of success, and where cause and effect is not what we think it is. In this new world, why stay with an outdated, flawed system of accountability?
Brian Ward is a principal in Affinity Consulting and the author of Lead People...Manage Things: Master the 5 Key Facets of Quality Leadership & Become a GREAT Leader. He has over 25 years of experience working with all levels of management and staff as a leadership coach, facilitator and consultant. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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