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June 2014
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TD Magazine

Rethinking Accountability

Accountability is largely misunderstood, and its power to affect results is consequently underestimated.

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Intelligence8
Organizations tend to get accountability wrong. Most efforts to increase accountability backfire because they reinforce the prevailing view that it is a quality that kicks in after something has gone wrong, to help with damage control.

It's time for organizations to rethink accountability and take a more proactive approach to cultivating it among employees. Organizations need to intentionally build a culture of accountability, in which employees take pride in their work and in the organization's mission, and hold themselves to high standards of performance on a daily basis.

Accountability encompasses several core areas that define how work gets done within a team and the organization. It is exhibited through:

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  • people's commitments to one another
  • how they measure and report progress
  • how they react when things go wrong
  • how much ownership people assume.

How an individual, team, or organization operationalizes accountability determines its ability to execute its strategy, achieve results, and benefit from feedback. Accountability affects every task, big or small, within the organization, and how smoothly and productively individuals work together.
In organizations that struggle with accountability, employees (and leadership) often will make excuses, blame others, spread confusion about goals, and have an attitude of helplessness. Accountable organizations, meanwhile, foster a sense of reality, ownership, commitment, solutions to problems, and determined action.

Rather than continuing to enforce accountability as part of your organization's damage control strategy, reframe it as a quality that employees should exhibit in their daily work, and that can be harnessed to achieve the desired business results. Holding employees accountable in a positive and principled way creates a positive workplace culture with improved morale, reduced performance gaps, fulfilled expectations, and ultimately, an increase in an organization's ability to accomplish its strategic goals.

About the Author

Roger Connors is CEO of Partners In Leadership.

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