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Accountability Isn’t About Putting Things in Writing

accountability, accountable, responsibility, employee engagement, leadership, management

I recently wrote an article titled, “5 Key Components of Any Successful Performance Management Process”. The article outlines how to use management involvement, goal setting, learning and development, feedback and coaching, and ongoing conversations to improve performance. I received a note about the article that I wanted to share.

We’re working to become a high-performance company by incorporating the ‘key components’ you wrote about into our leadership’s everyday behaviors, which in turn, will drive performance and desired behaviors. However, the crux of the situation is my senior leadership wants no formal documentation of conversations. Have you seen this executed successfully in other organizations? Any tips to ensure accountability while empowering leaders to truly manage performance?

I think this is a great question because it gets to the heart of accountability. I understand the reader’s point about documentation. Sometimes we are forced to put things in writing to hold people accountable. Other times we want to write things down to hold ourselves accountable.

But we need to be careful that documentation doesn’t become synonymous with accountability. Because accountability isn’t about putting things in writing. At least, that’s not the only form of accountability. Ultimately, accountability is about behavior. When we’re talking about accountability, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Accountability is about accepting responsibility. The definition of accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”. Some people do this naturally or with very little prompting. Others…well, might need more pressure encouragement. Part of the conversation might include explaining the benefits of accepting responsibility, such as “this will make your job easier” or that it reduces a source of frustration.

If you accept this definition, then you realize that accountability and documentation don’t always go together. For example, Mr. Bartender takes out the recycling every week. Not because he’s signed a document. (Oh, wouldn’t that be funny?!) But he holds himself accountable for helping the environment.

Individuals shouldn’t be held accountable for things they cannot control. Let me explain the context of control. We can use the reader’s note as an example. I don’t believe it’s fair to tell a manager, “You will be held accountable for having regular one-on-one meetings with your employees.” And then not allow them a certain amount of flexibility in making that happen.

For instance, one manager might want to have a set date and time that they meet with each employee. Another manager might have a sign-up sheet that employees write their name in. The important thing is that they have the one-on-one meetings.

Accountability must be communicated and properly trained. Whenever someone is going to be held accountable for a task, they need to 1) know that they’re being held accountable and 2) feel comfortable doing the task. Adding to the scenario of manager one-on-one meetings, I could see a manager getting really frustrated if they weren’t told that they needed to be conducting one-on-one meetings with employees. Then they’re dinged for it during their performance review.

I could also see managers (and employees!) getting really frustrated if managers are told that they will be held accountable for one-on-one meetings and then never given any type of training or guidance.

Understand why an individual holds themselves accountable. Organizations could learn a lot by understanding the reasons employees hold themselves accountable for certain activities. It is as simple as “it’s on my job description” or a bigger reason like “Mr. Jones comes into our shop every Tuesday, so I try to make his day special.” If an employee hasn’t told you why they do a particular activity (or it isn’t obvious), ask them.

Managers might learn an extra benefit that they can share with others. It could reveal a reason the employee stays with the company.

Organizations that want to hold managers accountable for performance management need to properly communicate expectations, train managers for competence, and ask them to accept responsibility for the task. If you’re looking to add documentation, that can occur in job descriptions, performance reviews, and manager training. IMHO, the hard part isn’t finding ways to add documentation. It’s getting managers to hold themselves accountable.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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