TheKaiZone is back! And we’re kicking things off with a three-part series on the dynamics of accountability in Lean organizations. Accountability, while critical to progress and success at a very fundamental level, is a concept that is not well understood in the practice of modern management today. Learn why others cannot be held accountable, how our efforts to do so actually reduce individual accountability and how Lean’s Respect for People principle effectively reverses the accountability paradox.
It’s a universal mantra of modern management. Master this phrase, and you too could become management material. Here’s how . . .
When something goes wrong, just say they words. It doesn’t matter what happened or why it happened. Every time the mud hits the fan, say it loudly, and say it confidently. Repeat it to as many other management –types as possible. (Trust me, they too love the words. Watch them nod their heads in agreement, wishing they had said it first.)
Now, if it was a really big deal, go ahead bang your fist on the nearest flat surface, so others know how serious you are.
Just one word of caution. Be careful that the person you’re holding accountable doesn’t find out. After all, if they knew, you may find yourself down in the weeds, hopelessly lost amidst the trivial details of what actually happened. Not a place for management!
Remember, the key is to take responsibility . . . for pointing out that it’s obviously someone else’s responsibility. Get out there and own the fact that someone else must own it!
Now name, blame, and shame away! Problem solved . . . well . . . your problem solved, at least.
Holding Others Accountable: Management’s Biggest Waste?
WE need to hold THEM accountable. The emphasis is purposeful to point out the sheer irony in that statement. It was this irony that sparked a rather heated debate during a Lean training course I delivered a few weeks back.
On the topic of the Respect for People principle, I stressed the importance of not blaming the individual for the fault of the system. A leader in the room was visibly offended by this ridiculous notion, and made it known that – and I am quoting word-for-word here – “you can’t hold people accountable if you can’t blame them when they screw up”.
“True,” I responded. “You also can’t hold people accountable even if you can blame them. In fact, one person cannot force another person to be accountable in any situation.” After a few minutes, we agreed to disagree, but allow me to elaborate on management’s biggest waste.
The Accountability Myth, Defined
Let’s start with the definition of accountability:
There’s a piece in the middle that’s critical in understanding the nature of accountability. It’s a “willingness to accept responsibility”. In other words, accountability is a personal choice. An individual chooses whether or not to accept responsibility and, no matter how much we insist, we certainly cannot force them to do so.
Consider the parallels between accountability and honesty. Both are highly desired in an individual. Both vary across a continuum, i.e., a person can be more honest or less honest, more accountable or less accountable. And most importantly, a person can choose to alter their expression of the characteristic based on their individual situation.
Now consider the concept of holding people honest the way we attempt to hold people accountable. One person cannot make another person honest . . . trust me, as a father of four, I’ve tried. And it almost seems silly to try to do so. Unlike accountability, we understand that honesty is a product of the individual and of the situation, and not as something that we can generally force upon others. We cannot make others trustworthy, just as we cannot make them accountable. Holding others accountable is a myth.
The Unexpected Effect of Holding Others Accountable
What situations come to mind when there is an attempt to force honesty upon an individual. Interrogation? Extortion? Torture? The degree to which these methods are successful or ethical is a debate for another time. However, paramount in relation to the accountability discussion is how successful these methods are in altering future behavior. If attempt to hold people honest now, do they become more honest people in the future . . . or just better liars?
Similarly, do our attempts to hold people accountable by blaming the responsible party make it more likely that they will accept responsibility under similar circumstances in the future? Or, could it be that the modern management demand for accountability in others is actually the driving force behind the seeming widespread lack of accountability?
Please share your thoughts below and look for the next post in the series: Lean & Accountability, Part 2: The Paradox of Accountability.
Editor’s Note: Taking Accountability
After 10 months away, The KaiZone is back and here to stay, at least for a little while. The journey that my family and I have been on the last 10 months felt like a roller coaster ride. We welcomed a new baby, we sold a house, and we built a new house. I changed jobs, then I changed jobs again, and then again. Along the way we said goodbye to pets and loved ones, we managed through two major health scares, and a car accident that could have been much worse. It became apparent that writing was a luxury for another day.
And that day is today. While we certainly had our share of ups and downs over the last 10 months, it seems we have exited the roller coaster to blue skies and we’re heading for something a little less thrilling . . . the carousel, perhaps?
Although The KaiZone, was not at the forefront of my mind the last 10 months, the readership on the blog somehow continued to grow steadily throughout. Whether you came here by accident, were looking for some Lean advice, or just a good book for your next trip, I cannot thank you enough for supporting the site in my absence. It real was peace of mind knowing that you would still be here when I returned.
And in one final note, the time has come for me to be accountable for my own actions. In stepping away from the site, there were commitments that I made that have yet to be fulfilled. I wanted to sincerely apologize to those individuals, and to let them know that I have not forgotten, and that I will make it right in the coming weeks.