Great Expectations
by Sloan Campbell

It never ceases to amaze me how many times over the course of a week someone builds up my expectations of something happening on schedule or according to a predetermined plan, only to find out at the eleventh hour that nothing will happen !

When I really started to think about this phenomenon, I realized it was little wonder that we have so many difficulties managing our daily routines when fewer and fewer of our expectations are being met.

Our private lives and our day-to-day business dealings are shifting from Great Expectations to Mediocrity.

The very definition of expectations is something expected : a: not up to expectations; b: basis for expecting: ASSURANCE - they have every expectation of success; c: prospects of inheritance -- usually used in plural so where is the disconnect ?

The truth is, I am not sure exactly where Great Expectations turn into Mediocrity; however, it is my belief that the majority of this transformation is directly attributable to the degree to which people are accountable for their actions. Lack of accountability infers Mediocrity while, responsibility equates to Great Expectations. It's a little like buying a hat that says 'Simple' on it, just so people won't expect too much from you - you get what you expect !

There are easy ways to improve or maintain accountability in the workplace:

  • Start out right - Communicate a project value that promotes mutual respect and collaboration. This will help those who take on tasks to feel more comfortable being accountable for those tasks.

  • Support and clarify continuously - Reinforce this value through your communication and actions. Employees must feel that they can trust leadership to establish a positive work environment. Use your power to facilitate and clarify expectations of customers, executive management, and all stakeholders. Frequently changing expectations makes it difficult for employees to maintain their sense of accountability. It's easier to blame changes for not attaining goals than it is to commit to getting the job done.

  • Measure objectively - Collect data whenever possible to measure performance objectively. This keeps accountability decisions from being distorted by opinions, politics and power. Measure teams on results and meeting goals. Three hundred and sixty degree evaluations are balanced, so they are also useful.

  • Reward consistently and often - If an employee or team is truly accountable, they should be rewarded for goal-attainment and accept "corrective action" for nonattainment. Recognize employees publicly for accepting accountability. Set up a reward system to motivate employees and teams in a positive way when they meet goals. Rewards can include long-term strategies that give choice projects to high-performers. Beware: When employees who behave in a "non-accountable" way are rewarded, it will undermine the sense of accountability and trust of the rest of the workforce.

  • Turn over control - For an employee or team to possess a sense of accountability, they must have control over the key factors of their tasks. If they must pass through several levels of approvals in order to proceed on routine tasks, it will be abundantly clear to employees that someone is accountable - it's just not them.

  • Align support groups - The various functional groups that are interrelated to the progress of any project must be aligned to meeting business goals. Your job is to make sure that Legal, Accounting, HR, Marketing and others know what is expected of them for the success of your project and that they feel comfortable interacting with employees at the work team level. If key inputs are not under the control of project employees, they will not hesitate to blame others for non-attainment of goals.

  • Promote the use of group problem-solving techniques - Make sure teams work effectively to plan, identify obstacles and develop their own solutions. Then respect their conclusions. Otherwise, the resulting pressure on participants will make them frustrated and eventually passive.

  • Minimize constraints - Having to work under pressure from constraints that are beyond their control smothers the sense of accountability. An example is team staffing. If a project work team is short-handed and does not have the ability to bring in new workers, the team feels helpless. Helplessness is the great destroyer of the sense of accountability.

  • Enable creativity and innovation - There is nothing that demotivates high-performing, accountable workers more than institutionalized obstacles to goal attainment. For example, existing processes and procedures could be so "sophisticated" that they are stifling. You may have to allow the breaking of some rules to maintain the positive sense of accountability of which you seek. 1

However, if you don't get the people process right, you will never fulfill the potential of your business. The people process is more important than either the strategic planning or the decision-making or operations management processes. After all, it's the people in an organization who are accountable to make judgments about how markets are changing, create strategies based on those judgments and translate strategies into operational realities. 2

Thomas Sowell one of America's leading contemporary intellectuals drives this point home with his quote; "It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

OK so there is a direction for continued or improved business accountability, but what about our personal accountability?

Many of us realize that there are some core values that exist within society in order for it to thrive as opposed to merely survive. Trust, honesty, partnership, purpose, vision, and commitment are all essential for alignment and continuous breakthrough. However, the missing link lies in the experience of accountability, taking ownership for our results via the power of choice. Without this critical element, everything else becomes secondary or pales in comparison.

Somewhere back in our early school days, we were first introduced to the theories surrounding CAUSE and EFFECT. In conjunction, we also became aware of the distinction between ACTION and REACTION. Surely, we are convinced that these principles have direct applicability to the core of our personal relationships. In the realm of society, cause and effect take on very significant proportions in terms of creating lasting results. It is clear that we are either making things happen or things are happening to us.

Accountability allows us to look at the impact of decisions we make based on limiting and/or empowering beliefs we are packing around. The challenge of accountability is that it allows us to examine the extent to which we allow ourselves to feel powerless in life by thinking something or someone else "did it to me." 3

Knowing this, why are fewer and fewer of our personal expectations being met ?

Simple (and not the simple where people won't expect much), it is human nature to take the path of least resistance or of least pain. We live in a society where people position themselves to CYA (Cover Your Behind), just in case there is trouble - we want to be able to say "I did my job !!" or "that was someone else's responsibility !!" - there is an escape hatch.

Most of us fear being accountable because we misconstrue its real meaning. We mistakenly equate accountability with blame, fault, or being wrong. NO!! We need to realize that getting to the source of any issue requires an acknowledgement of how our choices and actions shape our experience and perception of everything. Blame is irrelevant. Instead, the point is to realize you were a participant in the event and had an influence based on your choices.

Personal power stems not from fault, but from learning. True credibility in our personal lives or our work environment lies in the willingness to live an accountable lifestyle -Accountability allows each of us to look at all of life's experiences, take credit for decisions we've made along the way, and learn. 4

Michael Armstrong exemplifies this concept best in his quote, "The ancient Romans had a tradition: whenever one of their engineers constructed an arch, as the capstone was hoisted into place, the engineer assumed accountability for his work in the most profound way possible: he stood under the arch."

Living life from an accountable perspective literally transforms the context and quality of our relationships. It is a framework that creates more energy, power, and purpose.

In order to truly live accountability, we must LET GO of our need to be right and our need to look good and massage our precious ego-image. We must examine our relationships, both business and personal, and notice those instances where we are accountable vs. wallowing in our 'fur-lined' rut of victim hood. 5

Seems sensible to me, I guess I just expect too much from most of the people I interact with during my daily routine sad.


Webster's Online Dictionary:

Accountability Quotes 1:

Accountability Quotes 2:


1. Finding the Leaders Within:

2. Accountability is a State of Mind Like Frustration:

3. Accountability The Cornerstone of Family Relationships:

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid

Sloan Campbell is a Program Manager at ELCAN Optical Technologies. ELCAN Optical Technologies (ELCAN) is a world photonics leader specializing in the design and manufacture of complex, precision opto-mechanical and electro-optical systems and subsystems for projection display, medical, industrial, automotive, defence, entertainment and telecommunications markets. You can e-mail your comments to the author at .

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Sloan Campbell. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading