Accountability… who cares?


Yes, who cares about accountability? In my experiences Coaching many business owners and Executives, that answer from them is ‘not many’. What is it?

Accountability includes responsibility, liability and answerability.

When someone stands up in the face of some kind of pho pah at work and declares that they are fully accountable, what has been your experience of what they mean? Mine has been that it is more of an apology, “I’m sorry that I broke the valuable thing we rely on to operate our business”. I’m sorry, I am fully accountable for having bumped your fence. Oops, I am accountable for eating the last bon bon. And that is about it. It seems more like admitting that someone did the deed and that admitting publicly is all that is required. And, I do acknowledge that it might be very hard to publicly admit.

How soon will the equipment be put back into production and by who and how soon will the losses to our bottom line be replaced? Who will stay late to make things right? Who will repair my fence (and by when)? And that bon bon, the last one of a full bag, that I did not have a chance to taste, what is accountability there?

In business, the one who takes responsibility, who endures the liability and seems to experience very little answerability from others is the owner. Losses are absorbed, people feel bad, it all passes. Why? It goes something like this, if the owner makes the person truly accountable they are an ogre. We are talking here about careless, inattentive damage, not pure accident.

What to do? My view is that we need to convince people that they are bottom line, final, the buck stops here, responsible for what they are doing. That level of complete responsibility engenders natural accountability because it increases the level of ownership a person can feel for a task. It is more than OK to ask for help and the counter is that micro managing is not much welcomed. People, most of us, are glad that there is a ‘boss’ somewhere who will take up the slack, cross the Ts and dot the Is, finish up and, btw, check things over to make sure it is right. And… somehow fix whatever needs fixing, even if they are in late on a Friday night to complete that.

The path to greater accountability is greater personal responsibility. When I feel like I own a task, I lean in and give it more than if I am just a cog in a wheel somewhere. When it is mine, it represents me and I want to be seen as competent and responsible. I truly take accountability throughout the delivery of the result. In this scenario the chances of pho pah are severely reduced. This is good for the owner and the company and the employee and the customer. To get to this place the leader must stand firm in their belief that the employee can do the task. And yes, maybe be a bit of an ogre, in support of the employee’s success. This kind of ogre does not show up to ‘take names and kick ass’ and is not of the school that uses the mantra ‘the floggings will stop when morale improves’.

More ogres of this kind would be a good thing.

This is not about ‘dire consequences’ but rather calling forth the best we each have to offer. Celebrating full on commitment and sincere effort, even through, especially through, a mis-step here and there, will make accountability much easier to embrace.

We need our ogres to stand up for this kind of  leadership.

Joseph Seiler MCC