Accountability Is Like Tango – It Takes Two to Do It

So the Manager says, “My people aren’t accountable”.

And the Staff People say, “People who do poor quality work are not held to account for improving it.”

I know this because I’m doing a survey about what managers and staff say about their workplace. It’s the same workplace, but two very different perspectives.

The difference between people “Being Accountable” vs. “Being Held to Account” is simple, but it’s not easy. A manager who thinks people should “be accountable” believes that accountability is a personality or character trait. It’s not. Like tango, accountability takes two people.

First, both sides have to agree on what it is that Staff Person A is going to be accountable for doing or producing. Then, when Staff Person A completes the task, Manager Person recognizes that fact, maybe just saying thank you, or maybe saying, “Okay, that’s done. Now what’s next on the list?”

Or, when Staff Person A doesn’t complete the task – either it’s late, or it’s incomplete, or it ran over the budget, the Manager Person recognizes that too. “Hey, where’s that thing you promised?” Or, “You said you would have this by 3:30. It’s late. What do we need to do to fix this for the people affected? And what do we need to do so that you deliver on time in the future?”

That’s called Holding to Account. So when Manager Person says, “My people aren’t accountable,” what s/he is really saying is either:

  • “My people aren’t reading my mind to see exactly what I want and when I want it”, or
  • “I shouldn’t have to follow up with everyone to remind people of their promises”, and/or
  • “I don’t want to have to deal with people’s explanations and excuses”, and/or
  • “I don’t like having to work with slackers to figure out how to reduce the negative impact they have on other people or how to change their behavior for next time.”

Accountability is a product of communication, not personality or character. So, Managers: Get good promises and have the Closure Conversations to complete the accountability. And Staff: Let your manager know about the costs to you of dealing with co-workers who do incomplete, late, or sloppy work.

End of sermon.

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