On Building Accountability

Laurie and I recently led a leadership training session for a state agency.  During that session, one of the questions participants wanted to address was “How do we get greater accountability from people.”  The answer, you build it through the combined use of performance and closure conversations.

Accountability is not a personal characteristic; it is a characteristic of the working relationship between people.  It is not whether Janet, or Frank, or Evan are accountable people, but whether the working relationship they have with clients, co-workers, and bosses are ones that are built on accountability.

When we consider accountability as an attribute of our relationship with other people, it makes it easier to build accountability into that relationship through the conversations we have.  Performance conversations, in which requests and promises are made, establish agreements between people.  When I promise to post an article of yours on a web site, we have an agreement.  And, if I fail to perform, we have a broken agreement between us.

By having a closure conversation, in which the broken agreement is acknowledged and amended, we are holding each other to account for the status of our agreements.  Naturally, I am the one who has to account for the failure to perform, but that you had the conversation with me makes it evident agreements are important and will be accounted for.

It is the combination of performance and closure conversations that builds accountability in a relationship.

1 reply
  1. Will Hoffman
    Will Hoffman says:

    – Language is central to being social. “We build networks of people with whom we participate in conversations.” These are not one-way messages like “take out the trash” or “do this task,” but rather two-way conversations in which two or more individuals share their background concerns, negotiate agreements for taking action together, and continuously develop a shared assessment of how the work and their relationship is progressing. These are the kind of principles we should be mindful of as we design modern work management systems.

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