Take the blame out of responsibility and you might produce accountability

If I’ve heard it once I have heard it a thousand times – a senior manager lamenting over the lack of accountability in his or her workforce.

Let’s just stop and think about this for a moment. I like a good challenge — I bet many people do — especially when it involves an opportunity to develop a skill, learn something new, make a contribution or be part of some larger accomplishment. But I am not looking for opportunities to be made to look incompetent, held up as the reason why something failed or in some way have my reputation damaged because I took part in a project that did not meet expectations or realize projected results.

If you want me to be accountable, give me a choice about my participation. Allow me the courtesy to say no. Don’t ask me to do something and then leave me feeling like I am on my own once I have made a commitment. I want it to be understood that if I say yes I don’t want the outcome to be viewed as the sum total of my accomplishments. Don’t ask for my accountability and then act like you can’t trust me anymore if I don’t come through.

I want my commitment to any result to be viewed as part of an ongoing relationship that will have ups and downs but is larger than the sum of its parts, with no part being large enough to cancel out the rest. I want recognition for simply stepping up to the challenge.

If you ask me to do something let me ask for what I need to produce the result in return — don’t let this be a one-way conversation. Understand that once I say yes you are still responsible too. Understand that my commitment is not a duty. Unless we have a previous agreement I owe you nothing until it is negotiated in real time.

I do not want an open-ended job description with the dreaded phrase, “and other duties as assigned” tagged on at the end. How insulting. Would you agree to that? I didn’t think so.

And how do some employers understand accountability? If I were to guess based on observation I’d say they mean who will get the blame when things don’t go as planned. Not a very attractive game by any means, at least not for a person with any amount of self-respect.

Now if we are speaking of a relationship built on the notion of win/win, you have my attention. If you are saying that I will have a say in how things go it gets even more attractive. Tell me you’ll be there when the going gets tough and I want to know where to sign up. Say it is my choice and I am already on it. Let me decide how it gets done and my head starts to swim. If you let me see it as a game then I am bound to go above and beyond. When it all falls apart and you ask me what I have learned I know this is the place I never want to leave.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He publishes a semi-weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com and also facilitates a monthly business book reading group at Village Books.


Related Stories