Accountability ≠ “Gotcha!”

Do we even know what “accountability” looks like?

Once again I want to remind you of my deep love for great pithy quotes. And today is no exception. In fact, it hit me right between the proverbial eyes. Are you ready? Here it is:

“Hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action.”
— Henry J. Evans

I can’t guarantee that is the right attribution for that quote. But, his name seems to be associated with it in the most contexts in which I see it. If anyone has any information to the contrary regarding the correct attribution, I want to be accountable for its accuracy and give credit to the originator.

Blaming and Finger Pointing

My fear as I write this article is that we are so far removed from a culture of accountability that we don’t even know what accountability looks like anymore. Whenever we do experience something that someone claims to be “accountability” it feels more like “blame” and “finger pointing” than anything else. So let me state emphatically that accountability does not equal a great big gotcha when something goes wrong. It is quite different and begins way upstream of whatever incident or accident has just occurred. But it should point out the space between language and action.

Let’s Move Upstream

Let’s agree right now that you can’t inject accountability into a process or a project in mid-stream. At least, you can’t do it without a lot of wear and tear on all parties concerned. So, what do you do? You build it into the next project or the next process or the next planning and execution event. You go upstream.

Clear Expectations — To place accountability upstream in your organization, you have to provide the specifics regarding your goals, objectives, success definitions, etc. at the outset, including clear expectations for everyone. This is the essence of moving accountability upstream. 

Clear Understanding — If your team can mirror back, in other words, if they can reflect or reiterate, the essence of what you said to them then as you were defining the expectations, then your expectations have been clearly stated. If their reflection does not mirror what you are trying to accomplish, then you need to restate them in a different way that speaks to them on their terms and at their level.

Clear Agreement — There is a shared responsibility that exists when it comes to accountability. I, as the leader, must be clear. You, as the follower, must be clear. And we, together, must be clear that we are both acting under the same expectations and understanding.

Clear Assessment — Here is where it starts to get progressively harder if not done right up to this point. Part and parcel of setting expectations are to be able to clearly define what success will look like in this instance. Was it employee engagement? Was it sales revenue? Was it profitability? Was it accolades and recognition? We must know what we were driving for before we can assess our progress. All too often assessment is based upon a level of effort. Success is definable. And assessment can be objectives with a properly defined goal or objective.

Clear Recognition — Recognition is a strong motivator. Many will say that it is much stronger than compensation. But after the success of the project, there must be recognition and some measure of acknowledgment to the organization that we have achieved what we set out to achieve.

Accountability ≠ “Gotcha!”

No one likes to feel attacked. And accountability has the reputation of being punitive. That is because it was injected after deadlines were missed and failure seemed imminent. So, it was framed poorly and executed even more poorly. It has often been a “Gotcha!” moment in a public setting.

Is accountability a part of your personal culture? Is it part of your organization’s culture? Is it a part of the planning process or is it a part of the process of cleaning up the mess and finding someone to blame?

Accountability is a shared responsibility and it doesn’t have to feel like a “Gotcha!” moment.

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.