The conundrum of setting in accountability & ownership is the most critical of all the things, for any enterprise or organization to create value & to realistically, keep on horizon, the feasibility & achievability of its aspirations & ambitions. This is a make or break of all other essentials, not just high performing organizations. And here is the elephant in the room – yet this one of the most unfixed equations across the majority of workplaces that we have seen.
Here’s where there exists complete dichotomy – from our experience & observations, we have come to a proven understanding that people want to do a good job. They want to be recognized, remembered and appreciated for their efforts in moving the needle, infact in the neuroscience of trust (HBR, 2017), there is an inherent need to get connected with work & colleagues, feel recognized & be on continuous learning & growing trajectory – yet its not so uncommon, to hear, ‘that’s not my job’ or not be up-to the required mark in the moment of truths.
But the Ownership – Accountability equation is something, which at least get’s understood rightly & gets fixed institutionally as well. Infact, as stated above, there’s a strong correlation between high performance and employees taking ownership, having a culture of accountability, & having high trust with others at the workplace. Come to think of it, all 3 are essentials & critical to be embedded into the culture & values of organizations. Most of the organizations keep fixing the Accountability part, without putting efforts to the Ownership side.
Back to the drawing board – Reinforcing the basics
|Being accountable is about being responsible for the result||Taking ownership is about taking initiative. We take initiative, when we care for something to happen|
|Not limited to one’s own commitments, it’s about acknowledging that your actions affect other team members’ abilities to accomplish their goals.||It means you have an obligation to the results of the organization and that you have an obligation to act on items that impact those results.|
|“I’ve got this”, accountability means you will deliver as promised, on-time, within budget, etc.||“You can trust me to do the right thing”, taking ownership means you care about the outcome as an owner of the organization|
|It also means, that when one falls short – they will be honest, proactive & own it up||It also means that one will ask for help, involving others, the moment the ask is beyond scope of their work, ability to deliver etc.|
|Being accountable is conveying to self & colleagues: “You can trust me to do what I say I’m going to do.”||Taking ownership is conveying to self & colleagues: ‘I will leave no stone unturned to get to the right results, & will not stop until that happens”|
It’s a no-brainer, that element of trust is high amongst the workplaces that rank higher in ownership – accountability & high performance – Ownership and accountability build & reinforces trust. Trust encourages employees to take ownership. Trust reinforces accountability because when you’re trusted, you don’t want to let your team down. Having trust in the workplace tells others — “I believe in you. I trust you and believe you’ll do the right thing and I believe you’ll do what you say you’re going to do.”
So where are the current systems broken ??
The current systems are built primitively, on carrot & stick approach, if not completely, most of it. It works on rewarding what gets results, & induces fear / penalties to what does not, making them ‘accountable’ without giving them a platform to take ownership at a system level. Infact, to quote The Systems Thinker, when something goes wrong in an organization, if the first question that gets asked is, “Whose fault is it?”, rather than “Why did we fail?”, then our mental models are based on carrot & stick, and most of the times taking accountability, will often mean putting somebody else to blame. We all have, if not experienced it, at least been an audience to this – most of all.
The Reinforcing cycle of Blame:
Blame causes fear, which increases cover-ups and reduces the flow of information. The lack of information hinders problem solving, creating more errors (R1). Fear also stifles risk taking and discourages innovation (R2).
We have systems of fixing accountability, but no systems for fixing and/or reinforcing ownership. Granting stock options or creating a profit-sharing plan will not establish a culture of ownership, these are pseudo triggers. Ownership does not stem from linking a possibility of economic interest, but it comes from emotional investedness & emotional commitment. As Marshall Goldsmith (one of the nation‟s leading executive coaches) writes in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, people will put their hearts into organizational priorities only to the extent that they see those priorities as being consistent with their personal values. Corroborating it, Daniel Pink quotes in The Whole New Mind about the transition from the information age (left brain) to the conceptual age (right brain).
The left-right brain dichotomy is often used to describe dominant personality traits or professional interests: left brain is the logical and linear bean-counter, right brain is the emotional and creative poet. The point being, Ownership has to precede Accountability, should one be expected to make better decisions – and the right ones eventually. Short tripping it to merely right ones, does not help the system, with its broken systems & limited learning curves for people.
Fixing the OA equation at systemic level – to be continued to Part 2