The Accountability Challenge

One of my biggest pet peeves is spending hours and hours in meetings, debating and discussing big important issues, or hashing out small important details and then leaving the meeting without crystal-clear commitments on Who Will Do What By When? If you find yourself frustrated with this same problem, you’ll really benefit from reading, Who Will Do What By When?, by authors Tom Hanson and Birgit Zacher Hanson. The book is a practical, tested How-To Manual on how to build an accountability system in your organization.

Does your organization experience these common “accountability” traps?

In years of working with managers, I see three common methods to try and hold people accountable: (Note that I wrote “try”):

  • Carrot
  • Stick
  • ‘Twizzle’
Mini-Donks & Carrots!

The carrot is often used to entice people to do their jobs. It includes sweetening the pot, asking nicely, begging, making promises of good things to come if the work gets done and meets expectations. For those choosing not to be accountable, this approach often fails. They just ignore the kind requests and go about their day.

The stick is used to beat people up for not doing their jobs. Usually, after using the stick, the manager justifies it was warranted, and may even feel good about exerting his/her power, but the result is often an aggressive or passive aggressive response. Behaviors are driven underground, internal coalitions are formed, and backstabbing becomes a survival mechanism...And there are still missed deadlines, underperformance, or incomplete work.

The twizzle, a name I coined myself, is used when the manager is faced with a series of well-crafted excuses. A good manager may be able to knock down the first, or even second attempt at an excuse, but someone good at the twizzle can offer many long, complex, logical and seemingly justifiable explanations for not getting the work done. Some are adept at redirecting the conversation towards another seemingly bigger issue. As a result, the employee effectively abdicates all responsibility. When the twizzle is used, the manager may feel effective because he or she can hear and even understand some of the explanations, and the excuse-maker probably feels justifiably vindicated, but the work is still not done.

One of the most damaging components that can show up in any and all of these methods is when the conversation ceases to be about the business need and becomes personal. Asking someone to do you a favor (carrot) rather than focusing on the business need to deliver makes it personal. Beating someone up (stick) often turns personal as it focuses on weaknesses or judgments. Excuse-making can be made personal (twizzle) with excuses like, ‘I didn’t feel well; it’s not my job; Joe didn’t get the report to me on time; etc...’.

In this wonderful book, Who Will Do What By When, managers learn how to really manage accountability well. They learn how to set clear expectations, explain the compelling business need – the WHY behind the job expectations, and help the team understand the business consequences of not delivering results. If you want to create a highly accountable and effective workforce, read and apply the framework in this book. It’s a refreshing read and a straightforward approach that can be reapplied time and time again.

Where do you need to hold people more accountable?