Accountability: The New Normal
By Marty Stanley
Continuous Improvement, TQM, Seven Habits, Six Sigma, Five
All of these are good concepts aimed to improve results,
instill greater productivity or profitability. Unfortunately most
of those processes ended up in three ringed binders that were put on
the shelf until the next new process came along because the last one
didn’t work. Sometimes the leadership in organizations becomes
mesmerized by that shiny object, caught in the lure that this
process will really get the organization in shape and position it
for the future.
Employees on the other hand, translate the “next big thing”
as “Flavor of the Month.” They work under the assumption that if
they ride it out and go through the motions, management will get
bored and it will go away and they won’t have to change. After all,
by playing it safe and “going along” they don’t become career
road-kill when the shiny new process becomes unpopular or doesn’t
Unfortunately, accountability hasn’t been considered the
"next big idea" because it’s not “flashy.” There are no “bragging
rights” about implementing an accountability process. After all,
accountability means people would need to change, rather than a
system or process that needs to change. And who wants to be
accountable if it means having to personally change?
Accountability Leads to Loss.
On the other hand we’ve seen what happens when there’s no
accountability for leading people or processes:
bust, Enron, Katrina, FEMA...
everywhere: politics, religion, sports...
bailouts and industries collapsing…
recalls, contaminated foods, greed, waste and excess.
Granted these are gross examples of lack of accountability,
but every organization has their own version of excess, sacred cows
or lack of oversight. When things don’t work, it’s usually due to a
lack of ownership or accountability for the decisions that led to
those results. Whether it’s lost customers or members, loss of
market share or defective products or crummy service, someone was
making decisions or communicating information that resulted in those
losses. It can be a lack of decision-making or communication that
creates the loss. But the bottom line is someone is not being
Fundamentals Not Magic Formulas:
Somehow we’ve lost
sight of the basics. The New Normal is about reviving some
fundamental principles such as people are accountable to do the work
for which they are hired. Whether it’s a management position or
not, it doesn’t make any difference, you are accountable.
The New Normal is about having clarity about expectations and
following through. When a person accepts a job, there’s an implied
agreement to perform the work for which they are hired. If a person
says they didn’t know what was expected, why did they accept the
Sometimes it’s easy to blame the boss for not explaining
what’s expected or for not providing training to do parts of the job
but that’s not a good excuse to slack off. If you don’t know what
you are supposed to do why don’t you ask? What are you waiting
for? There’s no magic formula for success. It’s really very
simple: Success comes from being accountable.
A Manager’s Best
Friend: Job Descriptions:
Job descriptions are a manager’s best tool in the toolbox for successful
management and leadership. They are a great place to start The New
Normal for Accountability. Collectively, job descriptions reflect
how work flows within a department and throughout an organization
and what each position is accountable for doing.
Individually, they can be used to hire, train, evaluate and
That’s why it’s important to have accurate job descriptions.
They will reflect the major accountabilities of each position and
why the position is integral to the success of the organization.
(It’s not “flashy” – but it works.)
If you can’t explain why the position is important, then
maybe it’s not critical to the success of the organization. The
accountabilities should be congruent, or a logical grouping of
activities for the incumbent to perform. Make sure the job
description fits the needs of the organization, and is not written
to match an employee’s skills.
Four Easy Steps to
Holding People Accountable:
First, use the job description as the basis for hiring or
promoting people into a position. It’s an objective way screen
candidates and assure they will have the skills and experience to do
Second, share the job description with the incumbent so they
know their accountabilities and let them know this will be used for
training, coaching and performance feedback.
Third, have objective ways to measure and monitor performance
and communicate those methods to the people performing the jobs.
Follow though by providing feedback about performance. Successful
managers know it’s their job to manage both people and processes.
They communicate expectations, monitor the key performance
indicators to assure things are on track and communicate information
on a timely basis.
Fourth, provide training and coaching opportunities to
Here’s the deal:
Holding people accountable isn’t always easy, particularly with
people who are underperforming. Sometimes managers think it’s
easier to do the work themselves, or they can do it better, or it
will take less time than to train and monitor and coach someone
The question then becomes, is it easier to do your work as a
manager and their work or to hold them accountable? Unless you are
willing to communicate expectations, provide the resources for
people to do their jobs and hold your people accountable, you’re the
one who is underperforming.
Clarity of Vision
and Structures to Support It:
Living The New Normal means that organizations understand that the ways
things have been done in the past necessarily won’t work in the
future. They understand workforce demographics and expectations are
changing dramatically and consumers are making more conscious
choices about how to spend their time and money.
These organizations will meet these changing needs,
internally and externally, with a clear vision, decision making with
accountability and communicating in ways that really reach their
constituents. From the fundamentals of holding individual employees
and managers accountable for their job descriptions to holding
larger portions of the company and its processes accountable, these
organizations will have the systems and structures in place to
support their vision, mission and core values. The result will be
alignment and integrity.
That’s accountability. That’s success.
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