Corporate Accountability Needs to Be More Than a Management Notion

No one disputes the importance of accountability in healthy workplaces, but the meaning of the word seems to escape many.

Here’s a case in point:

During a monthly “lunch and learn” with a group of company leaders, the topic veered to performance management and the problem of late reviews.

Senior leadership was often late with evaluations, and that gave tacit approval for all managers to follow suit.

And when they did follow suit, there were no formal consequences to their actions. The practice may have been hell on employee morale, but the CEO never held his managers accountable, and I mentioned that.

Well, one of the senior leaders objected. She said she was held accountable when her reviews were late. I asked how. She responded that if she missed her deadline, she’d go to the CEO and fully expect to offer an explanation.

I was speechless … for a moment.

Is this accountability?

Recovering quickly, I told her that what she’d described was not what I’d call being held accountable. Accountability has costs. And then I asked a question she absolutely did not like:

“What about your employees waiting for their reviews? How are you being held accountable to them?”

Silence.

Another manager in the room said, “I never thought about that.” She nodded her head slowly to indicate she would in the future.

(I’d always liked this manager — she was good people. Naturally she was later fired by The Silent One.)

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Corporate accountability is a community thing

True accountability takes a community. That’s why addicts are often ordered to group therapy. One on one, the addict may talk crap to his counselor, but put him in a group and he’ll be shamed by his peers if he starts in with any manipulative, blame-shifting mumbo jumbo.

Unfortunately, some leaders believe being held “accountable” to nothing more than their own conscious fulfills the spirit of the word. They’re wrong. And it matters, because without accountability organizations don’t function well.

Deadlines are missed, promises are broken, trust is abused, and efforts at improving processes are futile, because some will continue as they please, and no one will insist they do otherwise.

We hold these truths to be self-evident …”

I’m a proud American, and whenever I reflect on the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence, I appreciate anew the wonder of their accomplishments.

Have you read the Declaration of Independence lately? You might want to. It’s awesome. Awesome.

The Founding Fathers held King George III of Great Britain accountable, and they held each other accountable, too.

When we follow their lead, it’s amazing what we can achieve.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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