A Simple Model of Accountability

Accountability, or rather the lack of, has been a hot topic for many of my clients this year.  Its symptoms appear as failure to execute, unmet expectations and disappointed customers.  But what is at the root?  I have found that it is often a lack of clarity around what was requested and what was agreed to, and a lack of feedback on whether what was promised was delivered.

I had the pleasure of attending Bob Dunham’s program, “Elevating Organizational Performance”  this year. With a few simple diagrams, Bob illustrated how accountability is built in an organization. Here are four of the concepts that I have found most helpful to my clients:

  1. Accountability starts with a clear request, “Will you….?”.  The request could be from a boss to a subordinate, a colleague to colleague, or customer to provider.
  2. An effective request has the following components:
    • Relevant background regarding why the request is required and important
    • The expected time to fulfill the request
  3. The recipient of a request has three possible responses: “Yes”, “No”, or “I will get back to you with my answer by (Date)”. Of course, the recipient can counter-offer but the heart of accountability is a clear request and clear response.
  4. When the recipient of the request has fulfilled the request, the recipient asks the requestor, “Did I meet your conditions of satisfaction?” If not, the recipient of the request negotiates a new timeline and takes action to fulfill the expectations.

With this simple model, some groups realize they rarely close the loop to ensure their actions met requestors’ expectations.  Others realize that they “suggest” actions but don’t make clear requests, and therefore don’t get clear commitments.

Bob’s definition of trust as it relates to accountability is also helpful.  He says, “Trust is an assessment of the likelihood of a person following through on his or her commitments”.  The factors that are considered in making a trust assessment are:

  • Sincerity – Is the person’s response to my request genuine?
  • Competence – Does the person have the skills, knowledge and ability to deliver what they are promising?
  • Reliability – Does this person have a track record of delivering what they promise?
  • Care – Does this person care about me and this request?

This model appears simple but is “simplicity on the other side of complexity”.  Dunham and others such as Fernando Flores have found that the heart of accountability lies in clear offers, promises and requests.

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