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The Accountability Impasse

Accountability. Everyone is talking about it in this post-Enron era. It simply means that we want our employees to take responsibility for their actions. So why, ask managers everywhere, are people reluctant to hold themselves accountable at work?

By definition, the word "accountability" is threatening. It underscores that management expects you to account for your actions. Just look at its synonyms: answerability, burden, culpability, fault, guilt, incrimination, and liability. Yikes! And you want your employees to welcome the idea of accountability?

But fear alone is not stopping workers from accepting responsibility for their work. Management's failure to feely give away their authority is a bigger cause. When employees have little or no influence in how they do their jobs, they will resist any effort to hold them accountable. After all, if your supervisor tells you in painstaking detail how to do a task, why should you shoulder the blame for unsuccessful results?

And there's the impasse: Managers hesitate to empower workers who won't be accountable, and employees resist accountability because their leaders won't empower them. What now?

Give in. If you want your employees to be accountable, then give them something for which to be accountable. Giving authority to workers--who are ultimately responsible for the outcomes of their actions, anyway--is a prerequisite to holding them accountable.
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