For the longest time, the word “accountability” bothered me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’m a fairly responsible person. Before saying yes to something new, I try to pause and reflect on what I’m committing myself to and what I might need to say no to as a result. Being held responsible for my commitments is fine. So what is it about “accountability” that makes me feel anxious?
One day as I heard someone talking about how people need to be held accountable throughout their organization in order for real change to happen, I felt the anger and frustration in her voice. Her values hadn’t been honored. Sadly, I sensed she wanted to shame people for not doing their jobs the way she wanted. It’s like she was holding a baseball bat in her hands as she talked about needing to hold people accountable. No wonder I felt uncomfortable.
Most people don’t come to work to do a bad job. They are not children who require babysitting. They are humans who are trying, doing the best that they can, and occasionally making mistakes. Christopher Avery has a great view on accountability:
Accountability is external. Accountability is always a relationship between you and somebody else. Whether or not you are held to account isn’t up to you — it’s up to that other person.
We all need feedback in order to know how we’re doing and what we can improve, and the way that we deliver that message matters tremendously. We can show up with our imaginary baseball bats, hurt relationships, and allow a toxic culture to develop when we hold people accountable. Or we can be in alignment with our values and have healthy conversations about expectations, how are current behaviors are impacting others, and the results they’re producing. Accountability can build relationships and a culture of trust or it can be an excuse to tear people down. What is it doing in your organization?