Accountability is the key to a successful organisation. And indeed, many organisations recognise that caring, proactive staff who make good decisions are the ideal employees. Accountability is therefore tracked, measured, and scrutinised. What organisations don’t realise, is that they are actually decreasing accountability by pursuing it with unerring devotion.
The result of all the measuring and scrutinising is that organisations create the opposite outcome to what they intended: disengaged, demotivated staff that don’t trust the organisation. Just think for a minute of when you last heard the words ‘accountable’, ‘accountability’ or the phrase ‘being held to account’. Did you feel that you were being told off? Was it perhaps on the evening news? Maybe the news item was about big business, presidents, rogue nations or charities that have transgressed, dropped the ball, or been found guilty of foul play. Of course, it’s unlikely that your staff has done anything worth news coverage in their day-to-day work; yet, the accusatory connotation of placing such emphasis on accountability is hard to shake.
There is, however, a way to solve this problem – it’s about making accountability the outcome. The starting point needs to be about creating ownership. There can be no true accountability without first instilling a sense of ownership.
Accountability focuses on external motivators
Monetary reward, promotion, praise; all very good motivators in their own right. They are, however, external motivators and rarely stimulate motivation in the long term. Often, these external motivators eclipse internal motivators such as care, trust, and interest. It’s these motivators that create genuine accountability.
Fear is another motivator that influences employee behaviour: fear of losing their job if they underperform, or fear of negative feedback. Being in fear and operating in ‘threat brain’ means they can’t do good work, make good decisions, and leads to disengagement and distrust.
Monitoring accountability in organisations where external motivators prevail and staff are possibly operating in threat brain increases distrust and heightens disengagement. For example, making new managers fully accountable for developing their business area. If employees are concerned about job security or are competing for pay rises and promotions, accountability can be viewed as another way to pit managers against each other. Some individuals may thrive under those circumstances, others might become disengaged and demotivated.
Being accountable depends also on clarity. Accountability is not feasible if goals are unclear, unachievable or unfair. Asking employees to be accountable for something they don’t understand quickly diminishes commitment and self-confidence.
Internal motivators deliver genuine accountability
To create a truly accountable workforce, accountability needs to be removed from the equation initially. The focus needs to be on creating ownership. People need to feel that their interests and drivers are bound up in a project’s outcomes. It’s about helping employees to be intrinsically motivated to complete their tasks and projects.
Ownership requires the following elements to be in place:
Trust – A lack of trust, feeling afraid, and being in threat brain mean staff are less likely to be open and honest about their motivations, values and aspirations. Opinions, ideas and contributions to discussions are not forthcoming, for fear of negativity. Consequently, ownership doesn’t materialise. Trust first requires leaders to model the way, through openness, transparency and vulnerability.
Clarity – Ownership is impossible if people don’t understand the outcomes and purpose of a project. The Ownership Paradigm tool facilitates a conversation that’s needed in order for people to take ownership. An exploration of the meanings and interconnections of six facets of their work (outcomes, reputation, action, plan, strategy and purpose) should generate clarity. Employees begin to own what they do and how they do it, increasing commitment and boosting self-confidence. This is when employees choose to be accountable.
Freedom – Clear outcomes and strategy mean the employee can get on with the task – which they should be given the freedom to do if they are going to own it. This further increases commitment and self-confidence and results in employees choosing to be accountable for the outcome of the project.
By allowing employees to take ownership, organisations will see those same employees being accountable. Trust, clarity, and freedom enhance their commitment, genuine care about a project and its creative process.
Farscape’s webinar discusses The Ownership Paradigm tool and the accountability paradox in greater detail. Watch the recording, or call us on 0117 370 1800 if your organisation is struggling to strike a balance between accountability and ownership.