Most managers have some confusion about “accountability”, but one manager I talked with recently takes the cake. Howard complained about the poor quality of employees, saying that his (mostly young) staff people are “not accountable”.
“They just do the work they think they should do, but they are not accountable for their results,” Howard explained, summarizing our 20-minute conversation about his office problem. Three things are missing from this logic:
- Howard seems to think that accountability is an inborn trait that people either have or don’t have. I asked him how he would know if his people were being accountable, he said, “They would report their results to me on a regular basis.”
- He didn’t specify exactly which results they should report. If they are doing “the work they think they should do”, then what reporting does Howard expect? A report on the results they think they should be producing?
- Howard has exempted himself from any responsibility for establishing accountability as part of his management practices. In fact, I didn’t hear any management practices at all in our conversation about accountability.
Accountability requires clear requests and promises to produce results. And it requires follow-up: Howard will need to identify which results he wants each person to report on, and schedule a time for that to happen. Without a clear management request for specific results, there is no accountability. Without a specific date and time to report on those results, there is no accountability.
“You have to set it up,” I explained, “so you can get the feedback you want about what is actually being produced. Accountability requires being specific about what and when to count, track, and report. It’s your job to create the framework for that to happen.”
“Too much work,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to do that.”
Poor Howard. He prefers to rely on Authority, even though that’s just a hierarchical position with a title of some sort given by his higher-ups. Authority will never help him build accountability in his unit. But he doesn’t think he needs to do that anyway.
Howard insisted, “They should know their jobs”. He refused to clarify expected results, much less set up a weekly report-out meeting. He even rejected the idea of having his employees create and update a team-customized “results scoreboard”.
Then he went back to complaining about “young people today”.