Building accountability and avoiding blame

Building accountabilty and avoiding blame

Accountability is not a consequence to be feared, but the engine to personal growth, shared results and collective success.

“Some favorite expressions of small children: “It’s not my fault. . . They made me do it. . . I forgot.” Some favorite expressions of adults: “It’s not my job. . . No one told me. . . It couldn’t be helped.” True freedom begins and ends with personal accountability.”

–       Dan Zadra 

Take a look under the bonnet, kick the tyres and take that virtual inspective walk around the vehicle that is your team. Is it fit for purpose, delivering in all aspects and enveloped in a sea of accountability. ‘Accountability’ is a word that comes to the fore when the apparent lack of it begins to rear its head. Mediorcrity, lack of execution and missed deadlines become a regular feature in teams that avoid accountability and therefore lack results. Denial, finger pointing and protecting oneself become a fine art for those who constantly duck and dive to escape the accoutability net being thrown by their manager and their peers. How as managers is it possible to build accountability within your team?

Denial, finger pointing and protecting oneself become a fine art for those who constantly duck and dive to escape the accoutability net being thrown by their manager and their peers

Accountability means having the responsibility and authority to act and fully accept the consequences for the results of those actions. Accountability in its truest form is unavoidable, as everyone in an organisation is accountable to someone. It is suggested by some authors, that peer accountability is the ultimate goal, where team members are so committed to what they are trying to achieve that they are willing to remind each other of the standards of performance and behaviour. This level of committment necessities that goals and standards be developed by the team in a way that ensures everyone participates, agrees and is clear.

Research indicates that holding people accountable for their work has positive effects on their work; greater accuracy of work, better responses, improved problem solving, better decision-making, greater co-operation with colleagues and higer team satisfaction. These benefits should clearly provide the motivation for managers to at least examine where the accountability level is within their own teams (and themselves).

Accountability pitstop

Taking that look under the bonnet is important. Ulruch et al (2009)1 suggest the use of an accountability index to evaluate accountability within a team. This would be a useful starting point as an evaluative exercise on this accountability journey.  Simple and easy to use, it provides an interesting index that lists ways in “which employees experience discipline, ownership, and respnsibility, the cumulative effect of which is to ensure accountability”.

Accountability Items To what extent do my employees do the following? Score (1=Low   10=Often)
1. Follow disciplined processes in getting work done
2. Feel ownership for the goals of the organisation
3. Work to remove bureaucracy
4. Drive out costs at every level
5. Eliminate redundancies
6. Meet committments
7. Commit to qualities in all work activities
8. Accept responsbility for getting the work done
9. Receive rewards tied to meeting goals on time and within budget
10. Experience clear expectations for who has to do what to get work done
 Total score:

The accountability index can identify areas of strength or areas of potential development within the team and can give you a pathway for action as you strive to build accountability.

What matters even more fundamentally, however, is the interpretation of these tools, the manner in which they are used and the culture that surrounds them

Accountability tools

A review of the literature around accountability, clearly identifies that a significant component of building accountability is the tools that are used to measure it. These tools can be broken into two areas; planning and reporting. Both planning and reporting are complementary processes, with one feeding the other.

Planning

Reporting/Review

  • Performance plans
  • Clear objectives and goals
  • Agreed standards

 

  • Relevant data
  • Metrics
  • Analyses and charts
  • Performance evaluations/ reviews

The data, goals and performance plans must take account of numeric and non-numeric goals, as not everything is measurable by numbers. These tools need to set out explicitly what is required of the individuals and provide facilities for ongoing monitoring on a regular basis.

Breaking big goals or projects into specific elements rather than general statements can also help in identifying deliverables. The delivery of a project, for example, should be broken into deliverables within related time periods. The deliverables can be then be measured and monitored more effectively.

Accountability culture 

What matters even more fundamentally, however, is the interpretation of these tools, the manner in which they are used and the culture that surrounds them.

Accountability must stem from the top of the organisation or from you as the manager/team leader. It is difficult to establish a culture of accountability where the behaviours of the manager contradict the values and ideals that accountability promotes. In its simplest form, managers who build accountability first, make sure that their team know what is expected of them and then follow up to ensure that their team members perform according to those expectations.  As a result, they create ownership amongst all the team, committed to discipline, continuously improving and responsiveness.

Resistance to accountability can be laid at the feet of poorly performing organisations and their managers who use the umbrella of accountability to blame, accuse, name and shame and finger point

Resistance to accountability can be laid at the feet of poorly performing organisations and their managers who use the umbrella of accountability to blame, accuse, name and shame and finger point. They often use the performance reviews as weapons of persecution rather than opportunitues for learning and growth. The result, avoidance of accountability at all costs in the face of punishment or colleague humiliation for non-delivery. Where is the value in this, as productivity and performance will inevitably deteriorate and behaviours will be become sub-standard?

The road to accountability

So, if the motivation is there to begin enacting accountability, what are the five steps you can take in the next 60 days to get you on the road:

  1. Undertake an honest assessment of yourself and the team (use the index).
    1. Are you an accountability role model?
    2. Are the team disciplined in their approach?
    3. Are you and they clear on expectations and standards?
  2. Establish, agree and publish performance goals and behaviour standards for the team. Collectively agree what needs to be achieved, by whom and by when with agreement on appropriate behaviours.
  3. Establish simple measures and monitoring systems to track progress at regularly scheduled staff meetings.
  4. Confront difficult behaviour and performance issues head on as they arise.
  5. Acknowledge progress, challenge areas for improvement and promote learning from mistakes.

Accountability is not a consequence to be feared, but the engine to personal growth, shared results and collective success. Are you in the driving seat?


1 Ulrich D., Zenger J., Smallwood N., (1999) Results-based Leadership Harvard Business School Press