The most underrated and misinterpreted concept in the workplace is the power of accountability. Let me explain what we mean, well at least, let us try! How many times have you been blamed for not having done the one task you thought was never assigned to you? Or how many times have you been in a position where there was a lack of communication? Anyhow, why are we discussing all this? Accountability is the trickiest concept when it comes to workplaces.
What is Accountability?
According to The Cambridge Dictionary, to be accountable is to be “responsible for and having to explain your actions”. In other words, accountability is the ability of a person to expect, accept and explain the consequences of their actions/decisions. It all seems very confusing and simple at the same time. However, the essential thing about accountability is that it can only be voluntarily accepted; for organisations, this is intrinsic!
Accountability is contextual. When it comes to work, usually the employee’s accountability revolves around the specific tasks and general functions they are expected to perform. Whereas, a leader is held accountable for the success of his team. The organisation’s accountability is towards the community it is serving.
What is the power of Accountability?
Accountability like many other uncoerced virtues, can really define a person or organisation. The possession of said values or lack thereof, can make or break their reputation. Accountability can flourish when provided with the right environment. When you encourage people to accept complete responsibility of their decisions by providing the right conditions, accountability can be expected.
It derives its power from the ability to be completely impartial. When every person in the organisation plays by the same rulebook, the power of accountability emerges. Harnessing the power of accountability, many a civilisation have seen both Welfare and Warfare. In other words, accountability can be interpreted in different ways within an organisation.
When it comes to personal accountability, there are a few ways one’s relationship with it can be defined. You can be held to accountability, you can accept it, and you can embrace it.
Before elaborating on the above situations, understand that these are often results of a combination of factors.
Firstly, the individual’s locus of control. Secondly, the management model employed in your organisation. Lastly, the structure of the organisation.
Locus of control in the workplace
The locus of control is what governs the individual’s perception of the level of control over a given situation. Depending on the individual, you can describe the locus of control as external or internal.
When an individual possesses an internal locus, they own their actions, whether they bring them praise or blame. However, when an individual possesses an external locus, they believe other people, the environment or a higher power is responsible for their actions and should be held accountable accordingly.
However, most people’s locus lies in a spectrum between being internal and external. It also varies with the context at hand and the situation they are in. Therefore, the locus of control of each individual can define their connection with accountability.
Owning up to Accountability
Like the wording suggests, it is an undesirable feeling for most people. Sad as it might be, it is the most common relationship with accountability most workplaces are associated with. Whether you are on the ‘being held’ end or on the ‘holding’ end, it generally invokes a negative vibe even while providing motivation.
When there is a requirement of an external force to enforce accountability, it will only ensure the completion of task at hand to avoid further pressure.
Even while requiring lesser application of external pressure and being a personal choice, accepting accountability in the workplace cannot be an entirely positive experience. It can cause unrest in both parties involved when a combination of internal and external pressure propels the decision.
While still driving people to finish the task at hand, only accepting accountability might not be enough to inspire greater action.
Just accepting accountability and not internalising it might strain their relationship with accountability. It should be more out of will than out of reluctance.
When you internalise accountability and it becomes an almost involuntary state of mind, you have successfully embraced accountability. We expect people to be accountable for what they do. However, only a small number of people accept it and fewer people can completely embrace it. However, people who completely embrace accountability at work, will experience its transformative effect on their output.
While, accepting and embracing accountability sound very similar, the difference in perspective between both is very evident. There is no need for applying external pressure, or feeling conflicted by internal pressure when one embraces accountability. In fact, you see employees perform better when you appreciate them for their efforts and capabilities.
To sum it up, the power of accountability is a real thing. Accountability is a powerful tool and can help shape the culture and values at an organisation with due diligence. The environment at the workplace can help establish the relationship between employees and accountability, which in turn will drive them to be the most productive and motivated version of themselves.