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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Looking to Make People Accountable? Help Them to be Self-Accountable!

We in business tend to talk glibly about and even assume that there is a process in place for accountability but, in truth, is there?


I am a great believer in giving people the freedom to make decisions and take action without overwhelming pressure from nervous top-down management.


Indeed many wise business sages have expressed strong opinions that leaders should always appoint the best people possible and then get out of their way and let them get on with it, whatever “it” happens to be.


Easier said than done, of course, because two relevant words come to mind in the doing of it, those being “trust” and “threat”.


We can dispose pretty promptly of the threat connotation because if a leader truly thinks that an exceptional employee poses a threat on a personal or corporate basis then they need to indulge in a little self-examination.


Trust is an entirely different proposition. If a leader shows the courage to give people their heads and then lets them get on with it, then many outwardly confident characters can still suffer inward pangs of nervousness.


Time is, as they say, a great healer and time will usually exhibit results, positive or negative, that will confirm or deny the leader’s decision.


The trick is, of course, to shorten the time span to make sure that the time for any negative impact is as shortened as possible, and that is where accountability kicks in.


In essence accountability implies that while we have the freedom to make decisions and take action, we are always accountable for both decision and action that need to be for the greater good of the enterprise.


The difficulties now lie in the frequency, depth and hierarchical level to which people are accountable so that it does not become a wet blanket of authority.


It does seem obvious to say that if we rightly give our people freedom then they should be accountable and some individuals find this both scary and irksome. Consequently they can be identified as the people in the business who just need to be directed, told what to do and then get on and do it.


There is a danger, fed eagerly by the media, that accountability can be equated to dramatic failure and we then can get into a “heads must roll”  scenario.


The whole concept needs to be a part of the values and the culture of the business; we offer you trust and the freedom to do what you consider to be right and we expect that you will accept accountability for the outcome.


Aristotle said that excellence is not an act, it is a habit and he might well have substituted accountability for excellence. It is said also that when we have done something for thirty days it becomes a habit and I would suggest that this is the desired outcome anyway.


The real answer is to set up a process that is not irksome or seemingly investigative but one rather that eventually relies on self-motivation and self-accountability, in other words becomes a habit.


Eight plus years ago I was in a break-out group at a Vistage conference where we discussed accountability. Each of us decided on a regular action we would take and we would then be accountable to another member of the group. After four or so weeks I found that I was calling my colleague rather than being called.  


Self-motivation kicked, I found that I didn’t need to feel accountable or responsible for the blog, that I enjoyed the experience and now more than 450 posts later, I am still at it.  In other words it became a habit.


If we can set up a process in our business that delivers self- motivation and self-accountability as habits then we have a process that can only lead to growth and success and probably more satisfied employees.


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