Tag Archives: responsibility

Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom and responsibility are linked.  Problems occur when they are decoupled.

In a strict rules-based environment, where all behavior is dictated and abnormal behavior punished, there is little need for individual responsibility. The rule-maker assumes the responsibility and the individual suffers the consequences, for better or worse.

With freedom comes responsibility. Where there are no rules, behavior becomes the responsibility of the individual.

In an effort to enforce attendance at work, organizations (in the US) introduced limits to sick days and vacation days. The individual no longer had responsibility in that matter, and freedom only within the limits of the policy.

Some organizations adopted policies of unlimited vacation days, sick days, personal time off days, shifting the entire responsibility of attendance to the individual. This works only if the individual assumes that responsibility and behaves accordingly. Problems occur when, given that freedom, individuals do not respond to that responsibility.

Freedom and responsibility are linked.

Expand that coupling to working from home, flex time and larger issues. Expand that coupling to social institutions and governments. Freedom can only exist in an environment of individual responsibility. It is in the absence of individual responsibility that freedom becomes limited, by rules, and authoritarian institutions. Happy Independence Day.

Under the Rug

“I had such high hopes for her,” Mark explained. “We watched her, promoted her to our executive management team, encouraged her. And, she is failing. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to dampen her spirits if there is anything we can do to save her.”

“Have you talked to her directly, about her underperformance?” I asked.

“Well, we have been kind of waiting until the end of the first quarter, keeping our fingers crossed.”

“Have you tried to bring her underperformance out into the open?”

Mark shook his head. “No, in fact, I asked everyone NOT talk about it in our weekly management meeting. I don’t want to discourage her. Do you know how difficult it is to find someone of her caliber?”

“Just to be clear,” I replied. “Now, that you have moved from a state of denial, you are still willing to hide the problem, not discuss it or actively look the other way?”

Mark tried to speak, but he knew how any response would sound.

Accountability and Responsibility

I often hear the words “accountability” and “responsibility” used interchangeably. I have to interject, the words are different.

Accountability refers to the output, the deliverable, the objective, the goal. That output, will be judged by someone as complete, satisfied, achieved.

Responsibility, however, is an internal feeling. It is the relationship between the person and their own social conscience. In most cases, this is a positive feeling that supports the behavior engaged in pursuit of a specific accountability. So, it’s a good thing.

Moreover, in looking towards a leader, I would endeavor to find a sense of responsibility in support of the expected accountability. When I look at organizational context (culture), I look for those elements that instill a sense of responsibility toward the accountability we seek to achieve. I look for this, not only in designated leaders, but in the minds (and hearts) of team members. Not too much to ask for, from customers and vendors.

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

Words mean things. One of the biggest problems with managerial practices and the concepts constructed to support them, is the lack of clarity. And whenever things are not clear, people make stuff up, like holacracy, self directed work groups, management by objective, results based performance.

My thanks to Nick Forrest and his book How Dare You Manage, to bring some clarity to three words, responsibility, accountability and authority.

You see, you may think you have a communication problem, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem. You may think you are observing a personality conflict, but you more likely have an accountability and authority problem.

Accountability, or an accountability is a contract between a manager and team member related to an agreed upon output. An accountability is a contracted output.

Responsibility is a feeling of obligation, created and maintained within an individual to perform or take action. It is a feeling generally connected to a contracted output (accountability). Responsibility that is NOT connected to an accountability can be a recipe for disaster, because noble action may be taken without regard for a defined objective.

Authority is a limit. Authority is a limit, within which an individual has the freedom to use their discretionary judgment to make decisions (even the wrong decision) and control resources to reach a defined objective (goal, task assignment).

Whenever I see some management fad, like holacracy, emerge, it is likely because these three words have never been accurately defined. And in that void, people make stuff up. And sometimes, that stuff is nonsense. And sometimes, the nonsense can lead us astray, waste resources and in the end, destroy the organization that we were trying to build in the first place.

The Big Question No One Ever Asks

“So, what do you think made the difference?” I asked.  Julia was debriefing her meeting with the team.

“The team is really a good team,” Julia began, “but they were allowed to create an environment where they had no personal responsibility in the outcomes of their department.  Ultimately, I am accountable for the output of the team, but I cannot do the work alone.  My effectiveness, as a manager, is judged by my ability to get the team working together, solving problems and making decisions.”

“But, what made the difference?” I repeated.

“The difference was shifting the environment where they could confront the real issues facing the team.  Their previous manager had allowed them to blame machines and circumstances.  Like co-dependents, the manager fed the team and the team fed the manager.  I had to interrupt the cycle.  I had to give them permission to ask and answer the big question that no one ever asks.”

“And, that question would be?”

“How have I contributed to the problem?” she replied.