Why is accountability always a challenge, and how can it be improved?

Most people see accountability issues as a problem in management. We believe that there is a lot of what management and leadership can do to improve accountability, but the root for accountability issues are more related to the underline system of connections between people and policies the company is running on.

Each one of us has accountabilities. Some of them are intrinsic, we took them. Others are extrinsic, someone else assigns them to us. Most of the problems with accountabilities are related to extrinsic accountabilities. It might take more time and effort, but when an individual decides to take accountability, most likely that he will follow it. Leaders need to do their best to create environments where people feel and act like owners. When people feel they are owners, they will take accountability.

Accountability depends on interactions between people. When it’s clear who is accountable for what and what are the impacts of his actions and decisions on other people in the interaction, there are fewer complaints about accountability. The misunderstandings tunneled into conflicts, which can be easily resolved using the right conflict mitigation process. 

Any interaction (if it follows formal lines or informal lines) in companies is based on accountabilities. Each side in the interaction expects others to perform their accountabilities and is expected to perform his accountabilities. There are many cases in companies where interlinks between parties are not defined. People interact based on goodwill. Those interactions cause many accountability problems just because one person can’t guess what other people expect them to do. 
When a person is expected to be responsible for a certain task in a process and he is not following his expectations, the entire process fails and creates many unhappy people. In most cases, the problem created due to misunderstanding, not intentionally. 

Depicting interactions, impacts and flow between people create a visual representation of who is accountable for what, how his actions will impact others and what expected to flow between people in the interactions. Depiction not just creates visibility. The process itself helps to uncover a lot of problems.

One of the common problems is the policies. Policies set by management to create expected behavior and to reduce uncertainty. Most organizations are built on silos of certain expertise with common education and experience. Those silos create their own policies available for and required from members of the silos. Those policies tend to create behaviors seen by other people as a lack of accountability.  

Another common problem for accountability is mental models. Each one of us has his own mental models of how things should work. We are all subject to narrative fallacy. We twist the facts into a story to support our mental model, not the reality. Understanding people’s mental models and narrative fallacy reveal a lot of conditions that create a perception of problems with accountabilities.

Another way to deal with mental models and the narrative fallacy is to set up a simple and easy-to-understand metrics based on easy to collect data. Metrics are using numbers, not feelings. Although people can still use narrative fallacy to connect the dots the way they want, with numbers this behavior can be challenged. Metrics can show the end result of accountabilities. They can provide an indication if there are accountability issues or not. Metrics can be assigned to a role, people, and groups.

Organizations always suffer from a lack of resources. People need to compete with each other to get the resources they need to perform their job without leaving a negative impact on the company. This leads to several strategies people are following based on basic realizations if their relationship with others is for collaboration or competition. Most times people will collaborate in one scenario and compete in another. We found out that people’s basic assumptions on competition, collaboration, and the result tactic cause many accountability perceptions in companies. 

Last, but not least, in the brain of each one of us there are two systems. A fast system and a slow system. The slow system is doing all the thinking, but relatively to the fast system is hardly used. The fast-thinking doesn’t think, it reacts based on previous experience. Accountability issues can result from fast thinking. The interesting part is that by listing fast and slow thinking and requesting people to change fast thinking in some scenarios to slow thinking, people follow the request. We used this method more than once to resolve accountability issues.

Another reason for accountability is blame. When there is a culture of blame, people are afraid to make decisions and take initiative. Following our framework helps to reduce blame culture by focusing on people as problem solvers, not the problem. The process is based on learning from mistakes to create a better future. Working on interlinks exposes the opportunities of decentralizing and delegate decision making. Capturing informal interaction promotes the need for hybrid teams. The overall approach based on evolution teaches the need to take calculative risks rather than be risk-averse. All the above help companies to change a culture of blame.

There are causes for accountability that our framework won’t directly address, but the overall impact of finding inherent problems in connections and fixing them will have a positive impact on. Moral, decline engagement, low level of trust, no alignment around a core purpose or vision for the team or the companygrowth, and revenue are deemed more important than integrity, trust, and honor, and high turnover, are all causes that our framework won’t address directly. 

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