Assess Your Accountability Current
The “accountability current” flowing through the organizations of the most recent company failures—Lehman Brothers, Countrywide Financial, AIG, Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Quest, Adelphia, CitiGroup, Tenet, Delorean, Arthur Andersen LLP, ImClone, Waste Management, Xerox, Health South, CreditSuisse First Boston, Fiat, and Lucent Technologies—flowed in one direction—downward.
There is an Accountability Current that flows in every organization. That current is the directional flow of accountability and identifies where the accountability originates and the direction it moves. That flow can be either top-down or bottom-up, which determines whether accountability is flowing from you or toward you. Downward flowing accountability keeps everyone at the top attempting to regulate all the important activity in the organization. While keeping tabs on people and projects, these people at the top often feel as if they are the only ones taking accountability for results. To make matters worse, when these top line leaders take their hands off the controls, the current ceases to flow and the entire accountability process begins to break down. Only when they retake the controls and resume their top-down oversight does accountability once again take effect.
In our opinion, downward flowing accountability—which has become a way of life in far too many organizational cultures—has led to the crisis of accountability we see throughout the world today. In organizations with top-down accountability people below the top level often feel as if they must obey orders or suffer the consequences. Accountability looms large when something goes wrong. Not surprisingly, most people tend to resist and avoid this sort of accountability because it seems coercive. You can see the dilemma: people abdicate their personal accountability to those at the top because the people at the top are working too hard to control and enforce it.
When the Accountability Current flows upward in an organization, people take action on their own initiative, report proactively to their boss (and to their teammates and peers), raise issues, make good judgments, resolve problems, and, in general, make things happen. They don’t sit around waiting for someone else to do something; instead they take action on the work that needs to be done. This sort of accountability does not originate at the top; it begins with the individual, no matter where he or she works in the organization. People at all levels hold everyone upon whom they depend accountable–including the people they report to, the people who report to them, peers, customers, vendors, suppliers, and every other stakeholder. Follow-up becomes a natural, ingrained habit.
How does the Accountability Current flow in your organization?
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