Individual Accountability and Accountability for Output

From the Ask Tom mailbag – related to the post on Reprimands

I am unclear how a CEO can run a company without an alignment of accountabilities. Your description that the manager is accountable for the output of the team just gives the people below the manager a pass. This changes nothing. It just moves the dynamics up to between manager and superior. It’s a fractel of the same pattern grounded in a paternalistic paradigm. “Hey I’m not accountable, the team, as an entity, isn’t accountable – the manager is.” In a company of grown ups we hold ourselves accountable. Where does this accountability come from? Accountable to whom?

Indeed, how does a CEO run a company without an alignment of accountabilities? At Stratum V, the CEO holds the S-IV executive team accountable for the output of the S-III managerial team. In turn, the S-III managerial team is accountable for the output of the S-II supervisory team. In turn, the S-II supervisory team is accountable for the output of the S-I technician team. This is accountability related to output.

Here is the shift.

The S-I technician team is individually accountable, for themselves, according this contract. The S-I technician is individually accountable to show up for work each and every day, with their full commitment to do their best. That’s it.

This individual accountability then travels all the way back up to the CEO, each person, at every level of work, individually accountable to do their best. This is the alignment of accountabilities, individual accountability to do their best, with the accountability for output resting with the manager at each level of work.

4 thoughts on “Individual Accountability and Accountability for Output

  1. Bernard Paul-Hus

    In our experience in growing through these issues, the paradigm and cultural shift required to truly have meaningful and positive accountability comes from a purposeful shift from accountability driven by strict authoritarian edicts to a culture of self accountability. So it takes the right kind of people, in the right roles, driven by a common vision that has specific goals that are routinely measured and are regularly shared (transparency) for all to achieve. If goals throughout all stratums are being achieved, or are failing to be achieved, accountability is obvious. The right person in the right role reacts to the data accordingly. That’s positive accountability.

    Otherwise, in “old school ” authoritarian accountability systems, there are only the negative levers of a disciplinary system or termination.

    Get the right people in the right roles, establish meaningful KRAs and report against them constantly. Success and failure and where it all lies becomes evident to all throughout all strata of the organization.

    My three cents worth (inflation…).

  2. Barry Linetsky

    To say a little bit more in response. When a manager hires someone into a role, the hiring manager is looking for a person who possesses the talent, skill, knowledge, abilities, and values the work to fill a role deemed to be necessary for the hiring manager to deliver on what he or she is being held accountable for by his or her manager. The person being hired, by accepting the job, agrees to apply their abilities to doing the work they have been hired to do, within the context of the hiring manager’s instructions and the general operating framework and values of the company. There is a tacit agreement here. The worker will do their best to apply their knowledge, skill, and expertise using their own judgment. But the work they are doing is established by their manager. If requisitely organized, this happens at each hierarchical level, thereby creating a system of planned and coordinated actions aligned by strategic and operational intent to serve the corporate mission. The manager IS accountable, for if the work systems and people he hires and is accountable for cannot do the work expected of the manager, that manager will be removed.

    That being said, individuals are always accountable for their own personal effectiveness within the constraints established. But they don’t show up in an organization and receive a wage or salary for doing whatever they want to do. They are employed to contribute their talents to get work done in a very specific way, and in any business or hierarchical structure, the work to get done is defined by the person they report to.

    If you are not operating in a hierarchy, for example you operate in a legal partnership arrangement, then the structure of accountabilities is different because the nature of the relationship of who you are working for is different.

  3. Bill Mills

    Well said Tom. Accountability for output as you’ve described it forces the manager to see themselves as part of the process producing the results. This “double loop” thinking causes them to ask “How did I create this? What must I do to get a different result?”
    Managers who believe the employee is responsible for the output adopt a “single loop” mindset that spouts things like “What’s wrong with you people!”
    Double loop thinking actually gives the manager more options for resolving problems.

  4. Ronald Kasner

    I think it’s important to distinguish between responsibility and accountability. In my opinion, individuals need to be “responsible” for their actions or behaviors re: process and systems. They need to approach those behaviors with a combination of belief and passion — they can do the work (i.e., are trained in their roles) and they want to do the work (i.e., are engaged in their roles). At the same time, individuals need to be “accountable” for their productivity and quality metrics (i.e., measures of their behavior) and results (i.e., measures of their output). From a people managers perspective, they need to ensure each team member is engaged (e.g., passionate/want) and trained (i.e., belief/can). Moreover, they need to actively monitor both the metrics and results of each member, so they can spot the gaps in performance and correct those gaps by fixing the “can” (a training issue) and/or the “want” (an engagement issue).

    At the end of the day, every person in the organization, whether individual or manager, has both responsibility for their behaviors and actions, and accountability for their metrics and results. In the case of the individual, those relate to “doing,” while in the case of the people manager, those relate to “ensuring.”


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