How is accountability viewed in your organization? We’ve all heard, and most of us have said, that we’re responsible for making our boss “look good”, who in turn, is responsible for making their boss look good, and so on up the organizational chain of command. This traditional view of accountability is what I like to call upward accountability. While upward accountability is important, it’s not the whole picture.
Consider the concept of reverse accountability. First introduced by Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global provider of IT services, reverse accountability is the concept that managers are responsible for creating an environment in which their team members can succeed. Companies with a strong reverse accountability culture create an environment in which managers are equally accountable to their staff. While this type of downward accountability is another great piece of the puzzle, there’s still more.
What about lateral accountability? This is your accountability to the members of your immediate team who are neither above you nor below you in the organizational chart. You may not have thought about it before but you do have a responsibility to help make them successful. That’s the whole idea behind a “team”.
While upward, downward (or reverse), and lateral accountability traditionally focus on your immediate team, what about your accountability to other teams within the organization? What if you applied the principles of upward, downward, and lateral accountability to the other groups you work with? What if you were responsible for doing whatever was reasonable, within the context of your role and all the many priorities you have, to manage to make the people you work with more successful? For example, could you participate more effectively on project teams? Could you respond more promptly to emails and voice messages? Could you make meetings shorter or do more to show up on time? Could you simply make the office a more pleasant place to be by wishing co-workers a heartfelt “good morning”?
The final piece of accountability that we don’t talk about enough is self accountability. You are accountable for your own job security and success. Many people wrongly assume that loyalty or longevity at a company should equate to job security. It doesn’t. You are responsible for contributing to the organization. Your mere presence doesn’t actually count for much. You are accountable to show up on time and be dressed appropriately. You are accountable to work well with others; to complete your job duties in a competent and timely manner; to show initiative and demonstrate leadership; to make wise decisions; to prioritize; to communicate effectively. What else are you accountable for? If you do all of those things, you’ve taken a big step towards creating job security.
Similarly, many people assume that good work will automatically get rewarded by raises, recognition, new opportunities, and promotions. Newsflash – it likely won’t. While doing all the things for job security identified above is a necessary precursor to those rewards, they are not enough on their own. You are the only person who gets up every morning dedicated to serving your best interests. It’s only reasonable then that you are the person who is accountable to promote your accomplishments and skills, and to ask for the rewards you want and deserve.
When you add upward, downward, lateral, and self accountability together, you get what I call comprehensive accountability. Comprehensive accountability doesn’t mean that you are 100% responsible for your own and everyone else’s success. What it means is that within your realm of control, you take responsibility for doing the things you can reasonably do to ensure the overall success of the organization. By emphasizing the active role you have in influencing and impacting your own and others’ success, comprehensive accountability places you in a position of powerful ownership rather than powerless victimhood. When you practice comprehensive accountability, you understand that you have an important part to play in the success of the broader team and you use your expanded vision of accountability to proactively contribute in more areas of your control rather than helplessly watching things happen or waiting to be told what to do.
Comprehensive accountability is a concept and an approach that creates outcomes greater than the sum of the parts. If everyone takes responsibility for their own success and also a certain level of responsibility for other peoples’ success, you have end up generating more than 100% accountability for all results because of the overlap between people’s accountability. What would an organization that embraced comprehensive accountability look like? How could it improve the overall success of your organization?
How can you apply comprehensive accountability away from the office? At home or with your friends? With your health and finances? Think about what aspects of your own behaviour you are responsible for but also think about where you are accountable to give others the tools and support they need for you both to have a flourishing relationship or a successful outcome.
I encourage you to experiment this month and reconsider any view of accountability that narrowly defines it as being only upward, downward, lateral, or self accountability, and explore how you can incorporate more of each of those components of comprehensive accountability into your life. Go one step further and introduce the concept to others. You’ll be amazed at the changes that can happen.