Tag Archives: Accountability

Who is Accountable?

There has been a lot of talk about “Accountability” in society and in organizations for the past twenty years. In my clients’ companies, leaders and staff often lament over the lack of accountability in their organizations.

So, it seems that something is amiss. But what is it?

I’ve never encountered a vexing problem that was rooted in a single cause, so I won’t pretend to have a simple explanation. I am confidant however that I have eyes to see that many people are operating under a gross misunderstanding of “accountability.”  People talk of “holding others accountable,” but no one, except for God, can hold a person accountable. Rather, people voluntarily submit to accountability. That begs the question:

Who would voluntarily submit to you and under what circumstances?

Hidden within most conversations about accountability is the question of “who has the power to “hold a person accountable?” Most people look to the formal authorities as the keeper of accountability, but relying on the “authorities” is a sign of failure in the community and especially so in the workplace.

High performing teams are flooded with communication about their team and individual performance. Great teams seek feedback from their customers and stakeholders. But that is not all; they are busy giving each other feedback.  Team members hold each other accountable to standards they have all committed to.  People on these teams submit to accountability based on a trusty foundation built from:

  • Credibility: The person giving feedback is a position to speak knowledgeably.
  • Commitment to a common goal:  A strong desire to accomplish the very same thing.
  • Interdependence: The clear belief that they need each other to reach their goal.
  • Love: People submit to accountability when they see that the other person both knows them and cares for them.

Lack in any of these areas makes submitting to others risky.

Perhaps this explains the dearth of accountability that we experience. We don’t need formal authority to “enforce authority.” Instead, we need to clarify our common goals and pursue loving relationship with our neighbors and teammates. Under those conditions, the people around us will certainly be credible witnesses to our triumphs, our failures, and everything between.

Rather than lamenting about the absence of accountability, would should instead build relationships that invite it.

The Campaign for Accountability in Healthcare

Johns Hopkins’ physician Marty Makary is campaigning to make healthcare safer – and cheaper – by publishing healthcare outcomes for all to see. His new book, Unaccountable, is sure to be a clarion call for true healthcare reform – as opposed to the partisan bickering we hear on a daily basis. We should all be grateful for him and his tremendous work in this area.

The Accountability Dance

The call for reform is simple and clear. Transparency and accountability are critical for true and positive change, yet people rarely embrace accountability – especially people in positions of power. Accountability “occurs” under two conditions: either it is imposed forcibly by another, or one willingly offers (submits) to it.

It takes a lot for people, and organizations, to reach the point where they are willing to impose accountability on someone they know. The concern for harmony, draw of money, focus on short term goals, and an inner fear of hypocrisy are all overwhelming forces that drive people away from it. It takes courage.

Under what conditions will a person voluntarily submit to accountability? People submit to accountability when:

  • the authority has the person’s personal interests at heart
  • the authority is just and fair in administering consequences
  • they share a common and compelling goal or value
  • there is opportunity to learn from or redeem the situation

Absent these conditions, people squirm out of personal ownership for their gaffes, and they deflect responsibility for their behavior.  Absent these conditions in healthcare we will find doctors and hospitals fudging their numbers – thus thwarting the goal of better care.

Solutions?

I wonder just how we can create a system which conforms to these conditions. And if we do, there is still much more work to be done. In healthcare, we need the kind of management innovation Gary Hamel discusses in The Future of Management. It’s a tall order, and it will take the combined efforts of many, many people. But I am ready and eager for the challenge. How about you?