Who establishes workplace norms? How are these norms enacted, monitored and perpetuated? If only certain individuals can talk with the president of a company or of a university, does this norm affect only certain employees? If so, who is exempt?
All organizations have both written and unwritten rules about expectations to meet goals. As a leader, I have annual, monthly, weekly and daily objectives to guide my performance. At the end of the day or the week, I take stock of objectives I carryover and the reason for “non-completion.” There are many reasons — a meeting was postponed, not enough data was available to fulfill a task, more people must be brought into the process, and so forth. In other words, if an objective is on my list, I am accountable.
So what are the motivators for accountability?
I recently facilitated a seminar on accountability for mid-level managers. Everyone agreed that there are two types of motivators — internal and external, or in psychological terms, intrinsic and extrinsic. For example, if I have to hire a number of new replacement employees by the end of the year, I am driven to complete the objective because it benefits the school. You could say this is an extrinsic motivator because other people depend on these replacements to complete their goals. Alternatively, this is also an intrinsic expectation because I am personally motivated to succeed at tasks that I determine are doable. As the manager and leader, I direct the ship and its destination.
What are barriers to accountability?
I cited a few examples above that are about processes, timing, others’ involvement and so forth. In the same seminar, we discussed less observable barriers. Among these are an individual’s lack of experience, lack of management support, inadequate resources, poor teamwork, and disinterest. You could say they are also psychological barriers. Among these are fear of failure, procrastination, not asking for help, and perfectionism. All of them are interrelated. If you ask a teammate or employee why they wait until the last minute to finish an assignment, a typical answer might be that they like the pressure. Of course, this does not work for everyone — procrastination is an enemy of accountability.
How does the leader enact accountability?
First, the leader models how she fulfills objectives, and how she holds herself accountable.
Second, the leader models that she holds direct reports accountable. Employees watch. Who will get a “bye,” who will be exempt, and who will get more time? As a leader, I expect my direct reports will model for their team the fulfillment of objectives in a timely matter. If this does not occur, I must hold these individuals accountable to the set standards.
Third, a leader uses the terms expectations and accountability. These words convey workplace norms that are modeled and valued.
Finally, a leader celebrates accountability. In the past fiscal year, grant funding increased for the school. This was not accidental. A number of staff were involved in the planning, writing and fulfillment of the objective. They met personal expectations, team goals, and school priorities. Accountability is admirable.
For more on accountability, check out this very informative presentation created by the Cardinal Stritch University Leadership Center: Introduction to Leading Accountability