Have you ever been frustrated by people who just don't take accountability? Unfortunately, telling people that they need to take accountability doesn’t build their sense of accountability. Having seen many examples of this and at times been one of those people, here are a few reasons I believe contribute to people not taking accountability.
1. They're not clear
However clear we think the position descriptions and KPI’s are for a role or our communication with them, knowledge work has ambiguity and is difficult to pinpoint exactly what people are accountable for. With matrix structures and cross functional work, it makes it even more difficult to be clear which part they are accountable for.
2. They don’t feel they have the authority
Being given accountability without positional authority is challenging. It requires people to step into influencing without authority, such as in the case of delivering an outcome through cross functional collaboration with peers. Some are skilled at leading without authority but many are not, so they feel their hands are tied unless they receive support from higher authority.
3. They're scared
I've heard of an 'unwritten rule' in a team where "Success has a thousand parents failure is an orphan." More people try to avoid the stick than move towards the carrot in a carrot and stick environment (many corporate environments), according to David Rock. When there's an environment of punishing mistakes, people are less willing to be open about mistakes, take accountability to fix them and learn from them.
4. They're not confident
When people don't feel they are going to succeed and they don't feel they're going get support, it's too risky to take accountability. Some people take accountability despite the 'scary' environment because they feel confident within themselves that whatever happens, they can deal with it.
5. They don’t care enough
When people are disengaged and don’t care about their work, colleagues or the organisation, why would they take accountability? People who are engaged will at least have the willingness to take accountability, even if they are unclear, fearful or not confident.
6. They don’t realise how important they are
Some people may be disconnected with the purpose of what they do and not realise how important their role is as part of delivering an outcome for customers and the business. When they realise what impact their role has on others and ultimate outcomes for customers and the business, they may realise that they let others down when they don’t take accountability for their part.
7. They don't see others (especially leaders) modelling accountability
They see their own or other leaders being defensive or blaming others rather than taking responsibility for mistakes. Or they see leaders taking credit for successes where others have contributed. It's not only demotivating but also discourages taking accountability. When leaders take difficult feedback on the chin, stand up and apologise for an issue - even if it wasn't entirely in their control, people feel more inspired to do the same.
What do you do to enable people to take accountability?