Within the 7 Question - 7 Promise Framework, we’re big on accountability. We consider it to be not only reasonable but essential that every worker in an organization understands and embraces the ways in which they are accountable.
Most people who know me are aware that one of my pet peeves is the Millennial Myth - the idea that millennials inherently lack and shun accountability. In my experience, not only is this idea completely wrong, but the reverse is actually true. A lack of clear accountability is a frequent source of frustration amongst millennials in the workplace because they want to know the value their jobs bring to the company’s overall goals, and how those jobs connect with the big picture of the organization. In fact, those millennials who cared the most were often the most likely to get frustrated about the absence of well-defined accountability.
Failing to install a defined accountability structure in place has a way of turning quality workplace contributors into coal cars - the folks who show up and do all of the required work well, but don’t inject any energy into the organization. This is a sad and unnecessary way to devalue the contributions of the workers who could help your organization to run on the strength of its own momentum if they were able to become fully engaged. Well, accountability is a required component for crafting fully engaged employees.
Sadly, when it comes to general accountability, it is typically used in a context within which people are being “held” accountable. When wrongdoings are committed, employees are expected to be held accountable for them, and when goals need to be met, it is said that those responsible for meeting those goals will be held accountable for making sure they are met in accordance with the organization’s standards, and in a timely fashion.
In reality, self-accountability is the only accountability that truly exists. You simply can’t hold another person accountable for something. The very nature of the term “hold someone accountable” sounds outdated, militaristic, and out of place in a contemporary work environment. It is based on the outdated presumption that everyone within the organization reports to the same building. It further presumes that the office place has been divided amongst multiple managerial layers, each of which exercises its own brand of rigid control over the level beneath it.
Nowadays, the “workplace” is distributed far too broadly, and the work is much too complex, diverse and project-based for such an inflexible managerial system to be implemented, let alone for accountability to be administered as a top-down punishment that is inflicted upon a group of employees, instead of a bottom-up force that allows employees to direct their own actions.
Instead of holding someone within your organization accountable, the objective should be to establish a framework, undergirded by awareness and cognizance, creating an atmosphere that allows people to hold themselves accountable. Rather than being restrictive, accountability should have a liberating element to it. Accountable employees should feel as if they have tremendous freedom because they know the boundaries of their positions, and they feel comfortable operating within the full range of those boundaries.
Two of my favorite tools for optimizing operations - the modern Org Graph and Organizational Cognizance Model - hinge on accountability. This is because accountability permits the individual contributors within your company to embrace their freedoms to fulfill the duties connected to each of their positions, and to take full ownership of their roles without management imposing unnecessary restrictions or acting as a hindrance to creativity and personal autonomy. In this way, the self-accountability of your employees can breed the sort of propulsive force that will permit your organization to propel itself, because many of your coal cars will have realized their full potential as authentic stars, and will shine brightly for the benefit of everyone around them.