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Make Accountability Stick

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Twenty years ago, few managers used the word “accountability.” Now it’s common knowledge that everyone must be held accountable to produce results.

For Roger Connors and Thomas Smith, authors of Journey to the Emerald City (Prentice Hall, 1999), it’s not enough to talk about the need to instill accountability. You must do it by managing people so that they take responsibility rather than rely on excuses.

Their book presents an “experience ladder,” a process that turns impotent employees into take-charge performers. The authors emphasize that your corporate culture largely determines whether you can use this ladder to transform your work force. “Either you manage your culture, or it will manage you,” they write. They also show how employees use evasiveness to escape accountability:

I’m confused. This occurs when workers “use confusion as an excuse to mask their accountability.” Staffers pretend not to understand so that they can put off the heavy lifting. Solution: Clarify on paper what specific actions they must take to attain key goals.

Let’s see what happens. This wait-and-see approach breeds procrastination. Some workers use wishful thinking to assume that with the passing of time, their accountabilities will evaporate. Solution: Demand concrete actions under strict timetables. Explain the need for incremental progress.

They always screw up. Some employees will point the finger at someone or something else as an excuse to avoid work. The authors call this “blamestorming” and suggest that managers shift the focus from past recriminations to future action. Never indulge an employee who wants to gripe endlessly about the failings of others. Say, “In any case, that doesn’t change the task ahead.”

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