Three Wise MonkeysAccountability certainty is a trigger word for many people in organizations. It brings up images of slick corporate speak to replace more unsavory words like “command”, “control”, “criticism” and that dreaded concept “micromanaging.”

For many people when they hear “culture of accountability” they are so jaded that they feel it is just another way for their managers to micromanage the work.

Often accountability devolves into lists, checklists and reports of the status of work that should be done.

Feedback loops for tasks are an essential element of management. How then can we make accountability a more powerful motivator? Can we get out of the mode of just checking in with our reports and using accountability to see if things are done or not done –and if not done there is some negative repercussions?

In Macromanaging, Dwaine Canova makes a great observation about accountability. He points out that it is the twin of recognition. Recognition is the flip side of the same coin. Recognition as he explains it, takes the contributor point of view: “This is what you can count on me for.” Or better yet: “This is how I add value to the organization.”

So whereas, an accountability focus from the point of view of the boss might say “you must have this report to me by the first of every month”, a recognition focus from the point of view of the contributor might be “you can count on me for timely and effective reporting.” One is an action item, the other is a statement of value.

With great accountability we should have great recognition. In working with teams sometimes I will ask them to write out five things that you wish your boss/colleagues/team knew about the work you do. Most of the answers are some form of them wishing that people better understood the value of work that they do.

In developing your culture of accountability my challenge for leaders is to go beyond just having a reporting system of things to get done. Think about upgrading to a list of items for which everyone can say “this is what you can count on from me.”


Photo Flickr Creative Commons Three Wise Monkeys, Anderson Mancini