In the moment it might seem easiest to avoid the problem – to just look the other way and hope that things iron themselves out on their own. The problem is, that rarely – read: never – happens. Challenges, problems, snags, misunderstandings, misalignments, etc. must be addressed directly – or else. Or else what? Let’s consider what having a lack of accountability means for your organization:
- Unnecessary Rework and Work-Arounds – In a workplace culture with a lack of accountability, there’s a lack of clarity around expectations. As a result, decision-making becomes cumbersome and riddled with mistakes and perhaps a lack of buy-in from the collective from the start. Also, lack of accountability allows certain toxic behaviors and personalities to fester within the workplace. As a result, others begin to find ways to work around those individuals to avoid working with them. On the other hand, in a workplace where accountability is expected, there are clear expectations which ultimately increases everyone’s chances of getting things right the first time and works to solve individual dilemmas to improve the overall culture.
- Decreased Productivity and Increased Organizational Cost – In their book An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey diagnose a problem that plagues organizations in which accountability is not part of daily work life. They write:
In an ordinary organization, most people are doing a second job no one is paying them for. In businesses large and small … people are spending time and energy covering up their weaknesses, managing other people’s impressions of them, showing themselves to their best advantage, playing politics, hiding their inadequacies, hiding their uncertainties, hiding their limitations. Hiding…We regard this as the single-biggest loss of resources that organizations suffer every day.… The total cost of this waste is simple to state and staggering to contemplate: it prevents organizations and the people who work in them from reaching their full potential.
In the world of workplace performance accountability, this sort of hiding is considered denial of ownership or an unwillingness to be accountable for workplace performance decisions. By serving our fears instead of our potential we kill momentum. Accountability removes the need for hiding, which begets better decision-making and better outcomes.
- Decreased Trust and Reliability – If individuals aren’t held accountable (that includes every individual), how can anyone really trust their colleagues, leadership, or the management decisions that are made? It would be hard to. Trust is the holy grail of workplace culture because it’s so foundational for our connectivity as human beings. Trust is complex, just as relationships are complex. It requires the work of two: the trusting and the trustworthy. It denotes dependability and reliability and is created through interactions and behaviors that match statements and intentions. Trust is far less fragile than we believe it to be, and it can be cultivated faster than we think. Practicing accountability on a daily basis builds both trust and respect faster. And guess what? Higher trust drives higher productivity because less time is spent double-checking, waiting for action or decisions, and dealing with lip service or malicious compliance and other interpersonal problems such as blaming, criticizing, and the like. When you value trust over doubt and manipulation, you’ll internally motivate and engage employees.
Ultimately, a lack of accountability costs you. It takes a toll on relationships, on productivity, and on the bottom line. If your workplace has been avoiding accountability, make the shift. Remind yourself, accountability is an act of clarity that everyone actually wants and allows everyone to thrive.