Accountability: Holding People Accountable Versus People Being Accountable

In an era requiring each member of a team to execute, professionals are highly invested in wanting their workforces to take responsibility to get things done. Interestingly, those same professionals often don’t understand that there are techniques for attaining high levels of individual accountability. Other authors have written authoritative works on progressive techniques to create accountability (see works by Connors and Smith).

Prior to learning how to create high levels of accountability, professionals should do a quick self assessment to understand how they currently create conditions leading to accountability. In fact, the assessment technique is simple – just ask yourself if you hold people accountable or whether you feel that’s not possible – that people need to hold themselves accountable.

If you believe your workforce needs to be held accountable, you probably feel this need to be one of your priorities as a leader. Throughout the course of a typical week, I hear this sentiment repeatedly – “I need to hold my people accountable!”

The problem with this approach is that it’s based upon forcing people to get things done. You can do this, but this kind of directive management style conditions people to comply. They comply because they also know they will face some kind of punishment if they don’t comply.

The downsides to this approach are two-fold. In a management style based on force and punishment, people only comply when told. And, when people perform only when forced, their level of performance is always compromised to some degree. People never perform at an optimal level when forced to perform.

So, how do you create high levels of accountability for optimal performance?

In the book, “Drive,” Daniel Pink talks about the importance of helping people to feel that what they do has personal or “intrinsic” value. As applied to accountability, it is considerably more ideal for people to choose to perform, and to choose to perform for reasons they can focus on over time. In that case, they choose to be accountable for high level performance – which is the target behavior you want in a business.

Looked at from yet another perspective, professionals who feel the need to hold their workforce accountable are more autocratic, directive and Theory X in their approach. Additionally, they are often this way not just because of a management style preference. They are also frequently extremely frustrated with their workforce’s ability to perform. So, “holding people accountable” is less a technique and more an expression of frustration.

And, those managers who believe in creating conditions (e.g., a culture) that encourage and support people engaging in their work, finding their own good reasons to want to work hard, do well, etc., create a workforce of people who are intrinsically motivated to want to perform. By definition, these people are choosing to be accountable.

I would encourage you to look at how you think about creating accountability in your workforce. If you’re holding people accountable, think about a different, and more effective approach – create a culture in which people feel they are valued and are given the tools to do their jobs. Then watch how they want to do good things.

By the way, creating a culture like this will not only create higher levels of performance, but higher levels of creativity in people’s solutions. When people feel they matter and are able to own their jobs, they become personally invested in making things better. So they will apply themselves in all sorts of ways to do that, including creating new ways to get their jobs done.

I am very interested in your reactions to the concept I presented – holding people accountable versus people being given the opportunity to engage and choosing to be accountable – do you feel the latter is viable? Have you made that work? Please let me know.

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One Response to “Accountability: Holding People Accountable Versus People Being Accountable”

  1. I was actually a bit confused by all this, but thanks for taking the time to explain anyway. It was quite well written :)

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