Leadership Series – The Importance of Clear Accountability

Among the high priority weaknesses observed in organizations is poor structure, which encompasses the organization chart and job definitions.  Among the impacts of poor structure is a lack of clear accountability for results, which creates a significant barrier to performance.

I will leave the subject of the gaps and missteps in the organizational chart to another blog, and focus today on individual accountability for results.

Job descriptions usually serve well the purpose of enabling HR to assign a rate of compensation to a job.  But, rarely do they inform the employee of what he/she is accountable to produce.  Areas of work and vague responsibilities are defined, but getting clarity on expectations often depends upon completing employee orientation and on-the-job training.  In some cases, clarity never is achieved because expectations seem to shift, mixed messages are sent and multiple people appear to be accountable for the same results.

I once consulted for a leader whose strategy for dealing with disappointing work products and missed deadlines was to consciously give the same assignment to multiple individuals.  He would invoke, “that way I limit the chances that something won’t get done”.  This was maddening for those who worked for him.

How often have you heard, “well, I thought _____ was handling that”?  Multiple or unclear accountabilities is a source of waste and low morale.  Pride in work and high morale comes from clear accountability for results and eliminating the constraints to achieving those results.

Those of you familiar with Creating High Performers[1]  know that I recommend that job descriptions include the following (click here for more details on job descriptions):

  • What products or final results is this position responsible for?
  • What are the inputs that prompt this position to go to work?
  • What does this position do with those inputs (how is value added to that input)?
  • What is the final outcome that constitutes a completion on that input?
  • What are the statistics that measure performance in the position?

Supervisors then need to add their standards for the products to be produced, i.e., what does a satisfactory product look like.  Taken all together, you have clarity of expectations.

This may appear to be overkill, but what we are battling here is the tendency of human beings to wander.  They get curious, they are envious of someone else’s job and want to get a piece of that, they get drawn into doing the work of others.  This wandering, if you will, can create inconsistencies in performance and disappointments for managers, as well as promoting over-supervision and generally creating a dissatisfying workplace for all involved.

Consulting in organizations for nearly 40 years has demonstrated that employees are rarely given the level of clarity on expectations that they need to excel.  Without that clarity, accountability is eroded and both performance and job satisfaction is compromised.

Make the work clear, make it challenging, make it important and compelling, and all will thrive.

[1] Dann, W., Creating High Performers: 7 Questions to Ask Your Direct Reports, Growth Press, 2014



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