Why don’t people want to take accountability at work?

Why don’t people want to take accountability at work? Check out this article which shows you how you can build accountability in your business.

Why do people avoid accountability?

In the best organisations, detailed performance metrics, benchmarks and quantitative evaluations have become a way of life. But plenty of people complain about their performance being measured in this way and they still manage to avoid being fully accountable.

One reason performance ratings are so threatening is that performance reviews are often done badly. In poor-performing organisations, discussions about performance don’t mean you get coaching about constructive ways you could improve. Managers are often just as afraid to give feedback as staff are to receive it.

In the worst scenarios, data is used for blame rather than improvement, turning performance reviews into an exercise in persecution.

It’s no wonder therefore that people want to hide rather than be fully accountable. But that doesn’t help you or anyone else do a better job.

Here are four tips for building accountability:

  1. Ask questions. It helps to begin with agreement about goals and then to ask questions: did you do this, did you try that, and what happened? Questions help us deconstruct our performance and consider alternatives without becoming defensive.
  2. Create humiliation-free zones. You should never “name and shame.” Provide a safe place where a conversation can take place without making anyone feel put on the spot, and where difficult issues can be discussed without assigning blame. The goal is to solve problems, not to hurl accusations. Use a matter-of-fact, objective manner: assume that people want to do the right thing and that the data will help them know what the right thing is.
  3. Break big goals into specific chunks. If you look at the details that contributed to either failure or success it makes it easier to identify steps for improvement. It also allows people to feel proud of the things they already do well
  4. You also need to be accountable. You build others’ confidence in your leadership when you name problems that everyone knows are there, put performance data on the table for everyone to see, and refuse to shift responsibility to some nameless “them.” If you accept responsibility it helps others get over their fear of exposure and humiliation.

If you’d like to know more about how you can get people to be more accountable in your business, read our previous article on how to work with people at different levels of accountability.

(Adapted from an article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, with thanks.)

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