Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Allowing individual accountability

Today I failed and it is nothing new. I was late for a meeting, I spilled some coffee and didn't answer all my email. I fail everyday and so do you. Most of the time, personal failures are small and insignificant micro level failures like forgetting your car key. People move on, learn from the mistakes and improve. In rare instances, individuals fail at a macro level and must deal with consequences of those failures via bankruptcy, divorce, community service, etc. Macro failures are generally the result of many micro failures compounded.

Organizations fail regularly too. Unlike infrequent individual macro failures, corporate failures tend to be bigger, frequent, costly and noticeable. It seems odd to me that intelligent, responsible people who avoid macro failures individually, get together and blow it as a team. I believe this behavior has ties into accountability.

Individuals generally accept responsibility when they don't make their car payment. However, when a corporate team project fails it is a different story. Those same people are found busy writing lists of what was done wrong for the third time or standing at the water cooler mumbling about how they pointed out problems from the beginning. It sounds like there is a lack of accountability in workplace. Well, there is but ask yourself these questions:

Why do talented people function well as individuals but fail more frequently in teams? Further, why do they accept accountability for personal mistakes but reject accountability as a group?

Those are complex questions to answer but this I am certain of, individuals will not feel accountable when they felt powerless to influence the outcome. Once people are given power, they become accountable. Ken Blanchard wrote, "Empowerment means you have the freedom to act; it also means you are accountable for results."

Surely it is to everyone's benefit if employees take the kind of ownership over their work that they take in their personal lives. To engage people at that level, there is an intrinsic need for people to feel control over their work, to have input and not feel controlled.