Accountability LO13639
Fri, 16 May 1997 09:21:24 -0400

Replying to LO13594 --

From: William J. Burgess, TED Mfg., B102, Door 3A
(Tel. 423-229-4257) (Fax 423-224-0131)

Someone recently wrote (Sorry, I lost the author's name in a computer snafu):

[Host's Note: It was David Nelson <> ...Rick]

>Classic management theory says accountability is the combination of
>responsibility and authority (I ought to do it and I have the means.) In
>the real world, responsibility is ladled about much more freely than
>authority, including the authority to say "I can't do that" for whatever
>reason. Be that as it may, the question that intrigues me is the creation
>of "accountability." I have a clear sense of "holding accountable" when it
>relates to praise or punishment ("blame" has been mentioned here in this
>thread.) But are those the only options? In my real world, praise is
>present, but fleeting. Reward is present but slow. And blame, with
>consequences, is present but also slow. So, the question I'd like this
>group's insight on, is "how do I create a positive sense of accountability
>for results in the people in between." I'd welcome your thoughts,
>including, if necessary, busting my paradigm of 'positive.'

I have been following this thread with some interest and I believe there
is a fundamental issue related to management philosophy: Organizational
behavior based on "accountability" versus "responsibility". Or in other
terms "Control" paradigm versus "Commitment" paradigm. Traditional,
control-based approaches to management rely heavily on accountability, in
the sense of "hold"accountable and comittment-based approaches, as
advocated by Peter Block in "Stewardship", rely on "felt" responsibility
of organizational members. For further discussion I suggest:

Operational definitions:

ACCOUNTABLE - subject to giving an account; answerable [to others].
Accountable suggests imminence of retribution for unfulfilled trust or
violated obligation.

RESPONSIBLE - able to answer for one's conduct and obligations;
trustworthy, a free moral agent. Responsible implies assuming an
organizational role, duty, or trust.

"Accountability" frequently implies that correct action results from
external control or influence. Whereas, "Responsibility" implies correct
action results internal commitment to do the right thing. Therefore, work
systems that are based on traditional "control-based" paradigms seek to
hold people accountable. On the other hand, work systems that are based
on "commitment-based" paradigms seek to create work environments where
people assume more responsibility and ownership for organization results
based on stewardship for things that they really care about.

"Accountable" people will, at best, perform to the level of expectation
but not exceed it. They are accountable to the person holding them
accountable, not the achieving of the "cause/purpose". "Responsible"
people are committed to achieving that which they have committed to and
feel is really important and, as a result, will many times give
discretionary effort to achieve.

Organization relationships based on "felt responsibility" are "win-win",
whereas those based on "held accountable" can be at best "win-lose" and
can even be "lose-lose".

Bill Burgess (



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