Organization & Leadership Consulting

Healthy Accountability… What a “Sick” Idea!

healthy accountability

It was not a happy place to work. The mission was clear and meaningful. The people were good-hearted and good at what they did (for the most part). The customers were loyal…except for when they were disappointed, again. Something had to change.

So, as the new guy in charge of operations, programs, and services, I began asking questions. What is working? What is not working? Who is paying attention to either of those items? What is missing? (This was a seasonal hospitality nonprofit with a staff that varied in number from 25-130, depending on the time of year.)

One of the answers was, “We need more accountability around here.”

My next question was, “What do you mean by accountability?” I then asked the small team of year-round staff to write out what they would each want to see when it came to ‘more accountability’…sort of a ‘Tell me how you would define accountability’ exercise.

I received 17 individual answers. There were a total of 11 distinctly different definitions. Little wonder why there was “no accountability around here”. It looked different to different people. Sometimes the differences were between departments, glaringly so. Something had to change.

I then stated that I had never worked in an organization that did accountability well. The approaches I had seen ranged from autocratic micromanagement to “As long as you get the work done, I don’t care how many hours you put in or what time of day you do it.” Neither of those extremes, or attempts at more structured approaches, worked consistently well over time. Even if the work got done, what fell through the cracks was trust, collaboration, and a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ commonality around the work and the mission. 

So, it was time to research what effective accountability looks like and how it happens. In the process, we came across the concept of healthy accountability and liked it. A lot.

Here’s a little bit of what we found through reading, observing, listening, and trying it all out:

  • Openly dialogue about the need for healthy accountability (on your team/in your org).
  • Agree on what ‘healthy’ means (a healthy organism may get sick or injured but it can get well again on its own; unhealthy organisms need outside assistance).
  • Work diligently on setting clear expectations – up, down, across, through, etc. CLEAR.
  • Agree on frequency and type of feedback mechanisms and feedback loops. Use them.
  • Grease the gears of the above with authentic respect of self, others, your team, your organization, your customers, vendors, stakeholders, etc. No respect, no health.
  • “As soon as you walk by a violation, you’ve set a new standard.” Strive for consistency.
  • Grow in humility. The real kind. Most people either avoid holding others accountable or over do it. Either way is a misuse of authority and power.
    • Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking about yourself less.

It became a happier place to work. The work was not easier, but clarity and trust increased.


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