Blog: Accountability is out, ownership is in


Accountability is out, ownership is in

In the age of entrepreneurship at the workplace, can the spirit of ownership be inculcated in the workforce?
Accountability is out, ownership is in

It’s getting annoying! First delegating. Then, getting people to take responsibility for their work, their deliverables. Holding them accountable for their actions and their jobs. It just doesn’t seem to be happening!

Leaders scratch their heads, flummoxed. First, they get told that they need to delegate more, and micro-manage less. When they do delegate, the work often gets done late, incomplete, shoddily, or not at all. The general belief being that if the leader is unsatisfied, she’ll do the work herself, just to meet the deadline. Meanwhile, everyone else enjoys the long weekend! The excuses remain the same – I forgot this, or that, I didn’t know how, he delayed the data, but you said… yadda, yadda, yadda.

Fact is, in everybody’s mind – everyone, that is, except the leaders’ – responsibility and accountability imply that it’s eventually someone else’s problem!

Or, maybe it’s the English…

Y’see, responsibility implies an obligation. A moral duty to perform – subject to circumstances, environment, mood and bad hair days. Leaders expect their people to demonstrate a sense of responsibility. After all, that’s what you get paid for, right? Yet, well-worded, plausible excuses can comfortably couch poor performance. Sure! There’ll be some frustration, a few nasty conversations and more stress – for the leader.

Accountability is responsibility with a double shot of espresso! No excuses! Only reasons, and these need to be actually-factually justified. Also, too many occasions where reasons were required, would add up to a low performance rating – for the employee. Maybe even involuntary attrition. Accountability needs to be taken a tad more seriously.

Semantics? Well, analyze this: Why is delegating responsibility – or even the more important sounding ‘accountability’ – not good enough? Even after the leader has stated, in so many words, that the employee needs to take full responsibility, or is accountable for the delivery?

Well, because the overall ownership invariably resides with the leader – or Lalaji! Soldiers get killed, generals get the medals!

Fact is leaders, like packrats, tend to hold on to ownership. They just never let go! Possibly the memory of past burnt fingers, or just a natural micro-management nature. Oh ye of little faith!

This is the decade of entrepreneurships where everyone is self-motivated, self-driven, self-managed. Treating their job as their personal enterprise! Enter: Ownership, the new workplace DNA.

Before this can happen, leaders need to prepare the ground:

Identify the indicators: This is the first step! Leaders must understand the key indicators of the health of their business – the diagnostics. Clues that assure the leader that her business is on track. Emerging from clarity of purpose, relevant experience and some amount of gut-feel. Not from what the employee is reporting. Diagnostics are actual numbers, qualitative feedback from customers, clients and colleagues that need close monitoring.

Co-create clear goals: Deliverables and measures of success must be worked out as a joint exercise between the leader and her team. Getting the team to first write up their own goals basis the leaders’ is a good starting point. Alignment and negotiating targets would naturally follow.

Trust, but verify: Keeping an eye on the key indicators should be the primary focus for leaders. Frequent diagnostic assessments and timely corrective action is more important than discussing how frequently reviews should happen. Armed with this background, appraisals become precise, quick and result-oriented.

Situational Leadership: People need to be managed as per their readiness. The fine balance of will and skill required for the job. Misjudging readiness levels can be costly. However, Situational Leadership is a skill that can be learned. It may sound like old hat, but its tenets still hold good! One-style never fits all!   

Let go, let go!: Delegating ownership may seem risky and the easiest thing to do would be to jump in and take charge at the first sign that things are going south. Have faith! Once the direction, guidance and the knowledge (read training) have been given, people need the freedom to work. They will keep the flag flying high – provided leaders let them!

The idea is not to expend energy on the English around which ‘protocol’ is the more appropriate one. They all eventually point to the same end – the timely, qualitative delivery of results. Between responsibility, accountability and ownership, it is ownership that needs to be instilled.

Admittedly, delegating ownership may look just a shade lighter than abdication. Optically, it is! In reality, it is a management strategy that inculcates the spirit of entrepreneurship across the team. Giving everyone the chance to be potential leader. Business leaders need to demonstrate the guts to make it happen. A demonstration of faith – that will set people up for ownership!

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Topics: Leadership, #HRInsights

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