Let Me Do It: Why You Can’t Force Accountability
Last week we redefined accountability, shifting its focus from the vague responsibilities from which we try to avert our eyes to an opportunity for happiness and even success while doing what we’d do in front of others anyway.
This week we want to answer the next big question. You probably already know the answer to this one. But not surprisingly, it’s an answer that a lot of people complicate or dismiss all together.
Who Makes us Accountable?
Within the circuity of the scrappy rat race model, accountability often falls in last place. Organizations that rely on convoluted systems of reporting and tracking successes and failures are often set up so that the people at the bottom have no insights into what’s going on at the top, and vice versa. If accountability is to be taken seriously within these complex work models (not all the time, but many times), it’s because GM Dick Sr. is pacing the aisles and scanning the cubicles, making sure you’ve got the proper cover sheet on your TPS reports.
Let’s not trifle. This is otherwise known as a panopticon. And it ain’t pretty. I mean, how good do you feel knowing that your jerky boss is seconds away from calling you out on your TPS errors in front of two hundred gaping eyes?
Peter (above) fixed his TPS problem by undergoing intense psychotherapy, but that doesn’t have to mean intense therapy for all of us. We don’t have to force accountability. In fact, we can’t force it or it simply shrivels and leaves behind a bad taste in our mouths. Ever forced into a ‘team trust-building exercise’? Then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Looking in the Mirror
We know the panopticon work model is not only inefficient, but it also presupposes that we’re only doing what we’re supposed to because somebody is forcing us. Rather than framing a work model around constant surveillance where a central source is always watching and waiting for us to mess up, we can create an open platform for sharing what and how we do things. One where we know people are looking—and we’re okay with it.
If you think about it, that’s what our Twitter, Facebook, Path, and Flickr accounts do. We openly share ourselves with the world, expecting interaction and sometimes a little flack for doing what we do. In that same way, we don’t need a Dick Sr. walking down our aisle to scold us and belittle us into being accountable; instead we could use our online presence to create a virtual TPS report the whole team could see and edit, and maybe a comments field so any of us could alert our coworkers that they had accidentally added an extra ‘i’ in team.
See what I did there?
When people are forced to be accountable, they turn gun-shy and resentful. They revert to all the tactics that slimy corporations use to distract us from their bad behaviour because they begrudge us forcing them to ‘do the right thing’. And why shouldn’t they begrudge? They have nothing at stake. They do not play an active role in the consequences, regardless of whether they’re good or bad. The same goes for an individual who doesn’t know her company embezzles money from charities. She is as unaccountable as the CEO that orchestrated the stealing in the first place—she just doesn’t realize it. People innocently wash their hands when they’re uninformed. Or worse: they get brought down with Enron—with no chance at blowing whistles even if they wanted to.
When there’s no designated central rule-maker or other single source of criticism paddling us for our sins, and instead we use our presence to keep each other honest, we become accountable to ourselves and each other in a unique way. Unless we’re predisposed to self-sabotage (and some of us are), we make sure we’re looking after our own actions and those of our family’s before we ever feel inclined to be accountable to a CEO who has never met us and judges us on our profitability.
This is the part where things get nasty. It’s easy to say “Sure, we make ourselves accountable” but what about the people who say “screw that!” — those who feel accountability generates no personal meaning or, worse, no payoff?
Well my pets, check in next week when we explore our final and possibly most complex accountability question, “How do we make people WANT to be accountable?”
And maybe do something nice for your grandma this week. But I’m not forcing you.
Psst: If you missed part one of this three-part series, check out last week’s Slippery Accountability to explore how we aimed to redefine it.