Is Lack of Accountability Endemic in Your Organization?

Over the last few years I have seen a large increase in the number of clients who are bemoaning the ‘lack of accountability’ at all levels in their organization. After working with many of them to define what “lack of accountability” actually meant, I started to notice a pattern.

The dictionary definition of accountability is, “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”. So the crux here is RESPONSIBILITY – a duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone else, or created by one’s own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.

When we boiled it down we found that this, so called, “lack of accountability” was endemic in many organizations. Tasks or projects were delivered late, or not at all – which had consequences for the rest of the organization. Did employees just become lazy or suddenly stop being responsible?

We discovered that this phenomenon was merely a symptom of a larger problem…..poor management! In today’s ‘new reality’ almost all employees are stretched for time to complete all their tasks. They are constantly juggling responsibilities to achieve their objectives – and that means some things just don’t get done. So how is that poor management? Because executives and managers are afflicted by the same problem with the result that they often neglect one of their fundamental roles. To plan, organize and control. You know. To actually manage!

We traced back the root cause, and time and time again it came back to something the managers themselves had not done properly – a Management 101 issue. Here are three simple things managers should do to overcome this “lack of accountability.”

1. Set clear expectations. It appears that in this information age we use advanced techniques for setting expectations – called extrasensory perception or ESP. We just assume that people know what we want, when we want it, and what ‘good’ looks like for doing it! WRONG. Taking more time to help your staff understand what is expected, why it is important, when it needs to be done and what other dependencies are involved, and verifying that they actually get it, will remove a lot of the issues.

2. Check up BEFORE the deadline. Typically, we see this game played out every day in companies around the world.
Boss: “Hey Joe, how are you getting on with that project?” (Thinks, I hope he’s OK because I am late for this meeting).
Joe: “Great, thanks for asking.” (Thinks, I hope he doesn’t ask because I can’t remember which project it was, or if I have even started it!) .
That is NOT checking up, that’s checking out! As part of the expectations, set a time on their calendar when you will meet to discuss the project. Don’t leave it until the day before it’s due. Schedule the time.

3. Close the loop! This is a phrase that one of my clients coined and has become a major focal point for discussions in their organization. Did you do what I asked you to do, in the time frame and with a satisfactory outcome? If you have checked before the deadline there should not be any surprises. If there is a gap between the expectations and the deliverable, a perfect coaching opportunity arises. But don’t even get me started on coaching….I’d better make that the focus of the next Piñon Blog.

So, on the face of a seemingly complex problem lies a Management 101 issue that is easily addressed. I am constantly amazed how many managers don’t follow basic management principles. Of course, if executives and managers are not holding themselves accountable for these actions – that’s a whole other issue!

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