Accountability LO17431

Richard C. Holloway (
Mon, 16 Mar 1998 05:44:02 -0800

Replying to LO17420 --

Fred--thanks for this well-thought out discourse on accountability. I do
have some thoughts on this--having heard similar complaints.

Calls for accountability usually mean that someone's expectations haven't
been met. Often these expectations have never been discussed--or were
considered "implicit" within the organization. In my experience, the call
for accountability comes from each level of the organization (note
Hiller's quote at the end of this posting)--and is always, at least in my
experience, directed towards someone other than the person who is calling
for accountability. (I have yet to hear anyone complain about their own

People who are responsible for "accounting" (such as the financial
managers, book keepers, auditors, etc) are the most prevalent system
members calling for "fiscal accountability." This seems natural--and
appropriate--but doesn't always address other systems phenomenon.
Stockholders, employees, managers, executives and communities all find a
common voice when they call for accountability. Indeed, the chimera of
accountability is one of the great blame-shifting mechanisms of modern

Your idea that person A is accountable to person B for result C is a very
common model. Here's my preferred model, though:

1. Person A is accountable to Organizational Purpose B for Result C.

the corollaries are:

2. Person A is responsible for Person A (and)

3. Person A has the authority to make decisions for Person A to get a
Result C that meets the Organizational Purpose B (and)

4. Person A knows what Organizational Purpose B is.

This model of accountability relies on what Follett called the "invisible
leader" of the organization (purpose). It relies on an open and
participative organizational conversation, responsible management,
vision--oh all of those other "squishy" and "soft" components of
successful organizations.

We know that sometimes an organization will find a Person A who doesn't
understand how to work within this environment. The organization (person
X, Y or Z) has the opportunity to change the organization back to your
model--or to inculcate Person A into the culture--or to bid farewell to
this Person A and offer the job to someone else. The real challenge for
my proposed model is to create and sustain the organizational culture that
"expects" individual accountability, responsibility and authority.
Managers and leaders must ensure that this system operates functionally
and that the culture sustains individual accountability for collective
efforts, beginning with the executive.

Fred Nickols wrote:

> I have a client organization where calls for accountability can be heard
> on a regular basis. The calls emanate from the upper reaches of the
> company and sound like this: "They're not accountable." "They need to be
> accountable." "There's no accountability around here." "We need better
> accountability."
> In short, senior executives are lamenting the lack of accountability below
> their level.


Doc Holloway

"The most serious weakness in American business is the flaw in corporate
governance that permits the CEO to escape strict accountability and to cling
to power despite gross failures of leadership."  ^WStanley Hiller, Jr.

Thresholds--developing critical skills for living organizations Richard C. "Doc" Holloway Please visit our new website, still at <> <>

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