Matt's Articles

What are you accountable to?


A complaint that I often hear when working with an organization is, “people here aren’t held accountable.” or “no one is accountable for their work.” The statement usually comes out when we are exploring the performance of some operation or when we are discussing the ability of the organization to achieve a goal. In my observation, the perception is that this is a cultural stumbling block preventing the organization from working well together and producing high quality results. This is a significant challenge and worth exploring over a few newsletters. In my first run at the topic I will keep it simple and discuss my understanding of this cultural stumbling block and why it’s important. 

The dictionary definition of accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or account for one’s actions” -Merriam Webster. The key words are “obligation” and “responsibility.” Organizations are teams of teams. In the team we expect each other to be “obligated” towards one another working on a common end. Accountability is the demonstration of that obligation. The other key word here is “responsibility.” Again, I think in the context of a team we expect each other to equally feel the burden of the work we need to do and the obstacles we need to overcome, etc.
Consequently, it’s not hard to imagine that when people in the organization don’t see accountability they become disheartened that “some people” aren’t obligated and responsible for achieving the goal. 

In Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” he labels one of the dysfunctions “Avoidance of Accountability.” If you haven’t read the book I highly recommend it. He labels it as a dysfunction because it allows teams to accept low standards. To put a positive spin on this, in achieving a new level of performance we first have to establish a standard expected level of performance. For this standard to mean anything, the team (large or small) must be responsible for and obligated to that standard. I have worked with many organizations that have wanted to improve but give me blank stares when I ask them, “to improve from what?” I can’t begin identifying improvements if the team is all working from different baselines or is erratic in how they adhere to a standard. We can move towards improvement when the team feels equally responsible and obligated to the current standard and then begin improving upon that standard. In other words, they feel they are accountable. This is extremely important. 

I will explore this topic further in future articles. Specifically, I think it is worth considering the reasons why people, teams, and organizations lack accountability. Is accountability a culture or a governance issue? Whose job is it to create accountability? I’ll also discuss my improvement approach and very specifically, how Kaizen Events are used to create accountability.