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Why is it not good enough to have accountable employees?

There is a constant need to evaluate the overwhelming amount of advice and information that is out there about "how to lead and manage people"; and one golden rule that I have learnt is that you should never assume that you will be successful as long as you follow what everyone else seem to do or have in place. It doesn't work that way.

"Accountability is not sustainable and is not a growth-based culture"

Just about every business owner and manager will die to have employees who live and breathe accountability. However, is it really enough to have just accountability? Is having a culture of accountability the answer to the ever-evolving problems and challenges that businesses face?

The definition of accountability is taking or being assigned responsibility for something that you have done or something you are supposed to do. Accountability can be assigned as an instruction-based task or goal. You can even be specific about the expectations of the outcomes and the success. The person / employee who was being assigned takes the responsibility for getting the mission / task done the way it was being prescribed or instructed. That is accountability and it is good to have that.

However, we all know that there are always going to be new obstacles and up-hill battles in this ever-changing business landscape and as managers, we often do not begin to understand the magnitude of the problems ourselves, let alone have solutions and the bandwidth to problem-solve.

The core value of a sustainable growth-based culture should be Ownership instead of Accountability.

Ownership cannot be assigned or instructed. Ownership is being taken up. Ownership is when a team member says, “I’m going to crack this problem and make it happen. Here’s what I need support from you and we can accomplish this." With ownership, instruction-based engagement is no longer necessary as the employee already is saying "I am going to; I will; I need; We can, etc"

When you have people who breathe and advocate ownership, they will also have the confidence to talk about problems transparently because it gets in the way of their success and achieving the goals and they want to overcome the problems.

With this confidence and commitment, people with ownership also have the courage to learn from the issues they face, come to terms with failures and also get support and ask for help. This is very much driven by their desire to succeed and grow and not because they have been appointed to do so.

Employees who understands how Accountability works, on the other hand, tend to downplay or even hide problems. "Accountability" is a word often feared at the workplace for being associated with the blame game – being singled out when things go wrong, even if the reasons are beyond your scope of control. Unfortunately, when employees nowadays hear the term, they often do not know what to make out it. Instead, they will associate statements like “You will be held accountable” to be synonymous to “You are fully liable for the consequences if things don't go as planned!” This is a major setback for any organization that is trying to create a sustainable culture of growth and transformation.

That is why managers and business leaders who wish to move away from a command-and-control culture need to transform their team to one that is based on Ownership and not Accountability. Employees with ownership are those who are deeply engaged in both doing the work well and making a great life around what they do, more importantly, they see the value in constantly improving at how they go about it.

The sustainable roadmap for any manager and leader is when the team members are taking on tasks without being told to do so, showing initiative to improve quality and efficiency; and genuinely care to impact their clients, team members, organization, and community positively.

It is an important awareness for many leaders and managers that the core value of accountability that most organisations are being built upon becomes null when it can be seen as a liability that management assigns, rather than a self-desired role that people undertake of their own choice.


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