3 Signs You’ve Got an Accountability Issue

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It’s a big buzzword in the companies I work with.

Just this morning, I was on a conference call with a client, and they mentioned that “our leaders don’t hold their people accountable.”

Do you know where the word accountability comes from?  Here’s a clue:




The above Balance Sheet has 2 sides:  assets and liabilities.

When the two sides balance, the sheet is in account:  it’s accountable.

To take this from the world of accounting into the world of leadership, just replace the column “liabilities” with “what I promise to do” and assets with “what I actually did”.

If What You Do = What You Promise To Do,  you’re accountable.

If the two sides don’t add up, you’re not.

No ifs, ands, or buts.   Finger pointing, blame, shame, and excuses are not part of the defintion.

If only organizational life were only this cut and dried.  People live in three dimensions, not two, and life at work gets messy.

So here are three signs to tell if your company has issues with accountability.

1.  You fail the Pronoun Test.

When people talk, do they refer to the company as “they/them” or as “us/we”?  Us/we implies ownership and commitment.  I’ve got skin in the game.

They/them suggests someone else has all the power.  I just wait to be told what to do.  The more autocratic the company culture, the more you’ll hear “they/them”.

2. Feedback is an F-word.

Feedback was (in its conception) designed for one use:  to help someone learn and improve.

I’m working with a large company right now to help them to create a feedback-rich culture.

When I’ve asked employees, “When’s the last time you got honest, useful, productive feedback to help you develop and grow in your job?”   Nearly half of them reply “If that’s your definition of feedback…how about never?”

The only “feedback” they get is when someone tells them they did something wrong.  End of conversation.  No wonder feedback is a dirty word.

3.  Activate Hush-Hush Mode

When people want to talk about what’s really going on, they might say “let me close my door first”.

Or they suddenly get real quiet and start to whisper.

I call this Hush-Hush mode.

As though it’s not OK to talk about what’s really going on.

Do you recognize this collective denial?

It’s the organizational version of the dysfunctional family, not talking about the addict that’s making them all crazy.

But just living with the insanity every day.  And thinking it’s normal.

What other signs tip you off you’ve got an accountability issue?  



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