Does “Accountability” Have a Bad Name?

Whenever I work with a high-performing organization, I encounter people who have mastered the art of accountability. Conversely, in companies having performance difficulties, when I mention accountability, responses are often defensive.

In these companies, accountability is something that happens to people at work when things have gone wrong. It’s more about punishment than anything else.

I think of being held accountable as a positive means to empower people. When you build it into a company culture, people take ownership. They clearly identify the path from what they do in their jobs to how results are created for the organization.

In this way, personal responsibility provides meaning and fulfillment to people and their jobs. But, how does such responsibility get built into day-to-day life at work? When there’s a culture of accountability, people describe their jobs in terms of results.

For example, one engineer told me his job was this: “I help the company achieve increased profitsĀ  because my quality control system keeps defect rates to minimums. With minimal defects, there are fewer recalls and returns. The customer becomes happier, we get repeat sales. We achieve our profitsĀ  and sales results. That’s my job.”

People unfamiliar with a positive responsibility culture often misunderstand how it works and how to make it productive for results.

A great book that talks about how to create a culture of accountability that drives results is Change the Culture, Change the Game, by authors Tom Smith and Roger Connors.

The way we hold one another accountable defines the nature of our working relationships, how we interact and what we expect from one another. With such a culture, people embrace their role in facilitating change and take ownership for making progress happen.

When people adopt a sense of personal responsibility, they recognize that their participation can and will make a big difference. They go the extra mile because they know what to do, and they know how their job and their actions will drive results. This adds meaning and energy to their work, and most people crave meaning and fulfillment.

Accountability is the single biggest issue confronting organizations today, especially for those engaged in big change initiatives. When you build a culture of accountability, you have people who can and will achieve game-changing results.

Action steps as set out in the Connors and Smith book include:

  • See it
  • Own it
  • Solve it
  • Do it

I believe it’s possible to move away from a culture that thinks of accountability as being called out on the carpet. And I also believe that positive accountability can be built into our jobs by identifying the individual ways each of us contributes to the bottom line.

What do you think about this?

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