How Do You Create Accountability?

When is the last time you as an employer asked your employees about what their career goals are? What their motivations are?

Last week I watched a Webinar from the Association for Talent Development titled Creating a Culture of Accountability in Healthcare, which was presented by Michael Patterson of PSP.  I had initially signed up for this webinar several weeks ago simply because of the topic it covered.  One of the disruptive changes that the healthcare industry is going through is a desire to make healthcare safer primarily by changing the culture of healthcare.  Part of this involves things like running Root Cause Analysis on incidents that occur, dong more frequent system analysis to make sure that the entire healthcare system is functioning as optimally as possible, and giving everyone involved in healthcare the power to bring problems or mistakes into the light of day so they can be addressed.

The webinar itself was very good, and I would recommend anyone involved not only in healthcare, but within any other industry, to watch it for some good tips on how to increase the accountability within your organization.  In the webinar, Michael challenged everyone to think about times they have rented a vehicle from a car rental place like Avis or Enterprise:

When is the last time you washed and waxed the rental car before returning it?
– Michael Patterson

This was an interesting way to frame the question.  Of course almost no one has ever washed or waxed their rentals, because they are rentals.  But our own vehicles are a bit of a different story.  That, he points out, is the difference between just doing something and taking ownership.  So the question is, according to Michael, as the leader of an organization, are your employees behaving like car owners or car renters?

Clasped handsTo increase accountability, he argues, you first need to understand how not to increase it.  He pointed out that many organizations attempt to use three methods to increase accountability:

  1. Accountability by Structure:  The theory behind this method is that you need to add additional structures to bear.  You need to make someone accountable to someone else through a structure, and somehow accountability will magically grow simply by virtue of someone being accountable to someone else.
  2. Accountability by Task:  This is where you create a bunch of additional tasks/objectives for a person or team, and believe that accountability will follow by virtue of the existence and completion of the tasks/objectives.  You see this a lot in project management.
  3. Accountability by Cause:  This is where you believe that accountability can be created by virtue of the blame or praise that someone gets for their actions.  If someone doesn’t meet a task/objective, you blame them, and that blame creates accountability; in theory that accountability carries forwards as people fear the rebuke for not accomplishing something.  Or on the positive side, you praise and reward someone for completing a task, and this creates accountability which carries forward as people seek to do things to get the praise or reward.

Michael points out that all of these are misguided attempts that actually wind up standing in the way of creating true accountability among your employees.  In order to create true and lasting accountability, he argues, you need to understand and use three Accountability Imperatives.  These imperatives are Understanding the strengths of your employees, because strengths are simply the methods that people choose to use in order to accomplish a goal.  Once you understand this, you need to Understand the Motives of your employees, because these motives are the anchors that create the strengths that they choose to use in any given situation.  This also allows you as a leader to draw a connection between a certain task to be accomplished and an employees motivation, which turns the work into an expression of who that person is instead of a simple task they have been given.  Once you understand the strengths and motives of your employees, Michael stresses the Development of Accountability Skills, part of which includes getting people to recognize their own filters and how those filters impact your work.  If you are not motivated by a specific type of work, for example, your brain will filter out things involved with it because you have deemed them to be unimportant.  This means you might be missing something vital.  To help with this, he recommended using a 30 second time out to think about what you might be missing in a given situation.

Ted Morieux @ TedBCGLondonAll of this is good information, and I do think it is useful.  But what struck me the most about it is how it has related to several topics I have been hovering around for a few weeks.  For instance, when Michael discussed the common way that accountability is measured (with structures, tasks or through cause), it reminded me immediately of last week’s Fascinating Friday post featuring Yves Morieux and his ideas on how accountability has actually been a large factor in the modern productivity crisis.

Later, when Michael recommended understanding an employee’s strengths and motivations in order to increase accountability, I was reminded on several previous posts on the Millennial generation, including September’s What Do Millennials Want? and last week’s Talking With Millennials, Not At Them.  One of the major themes of the first post is that Millennials have very different career goals from the generations that have preceded them.  They value professional development as a way to keep skills sharp and always be valuable within the marketplace, because they lived through the layoffs and downsizing of The Great Recession and know that when it comes down to it a company will think of its bottom line before its employees. One of the major themes of the second post is that Millennials are now the largest cohort in the working world, and their opinions/ideas and insights should be at least given some recognition more than the hands-off style fascination that seems to underlay a lot of the current rhetoric around them.

Panel InterviewWhen is the last time you as an employer asked your employees about what their career goals are?  What their motivations are?  Was it with the typical “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question when you hired them?  If it was, then you are doing it wrong.  This may be a bit of an uncomfortable conversation to have, because it means you as an employer may find out that employees have no intention of staying with you for the long-term, or they want more than what you can give them.  But it seems that having more of these conversations may be one of the most important tools for increasing accountability within your organization.

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