Accountability as Managerial Competence!

Date:   Tuesday , December 01, 2009

Even as we say ‘good bye’ to 2009 and say a welcoming “hi” to 2010, it would be a good idea for managers to introspect what went well for them during the year that is fleeting by and what should they do to contribute better in the coming year. The best complement for any manager is when his or her people say that he or she added tremendous value to their learning and success. From an organization’s point of view too, managers are perceived as most valuable when they demonstrate a high degree of accountability in making things happen. Hence, it would be a good exercise if we as managers reflected on our “accountability quotient” and prepared ourselves for doing better.

Scope for accountability:

Like with most management concepts, there is enough and more argument around the accountability concept itself. For better understanding, let me present some of the key deliverables a bona fide line manager should be accountable for:

*Hiring and building the team. Determining the hiring strategy together with HR/Talent acquisition teams and participating in the short-listing and selection process cannot be delegated to resource management or even HR team.

*Determining work allocation. Based on a clear assessment of strengths every team member carries to work, the line manager should allocate work and responsibility.

*Setting goals using the company’s performance management system and process. Gaining employee commitment to the goals, standards and timelines requires extraordinary planning, communication, persuasion and influence skills besides demonstrating the support the line manager will provide to help accomplish these goals.

*Giving constructive and on-going feedback to the direct reports and determining the performance on the round at appropriate intervals and determining ratings.

*Ensuring team members collaborate for achieving synergy and not frittering away their energy in pursuit of narrow individual goals. This involves sharing knowledge, resources and best practices.

*Managing external relations within the organization or outside as may be dictated by the role of the line manager.

*Understanding and interpreting changes impacting the organization and the team and communicating the same to team to gain commitment and remove anxieties.

*Rewarding and recognizing the performers and making sure they stick around for long term besides managing out the poor performers on an ongoing basis.

Accountability is nothing new, but needs special attention

None of the above areas of responsibility is new to a manager in any organization. But what makes some successful and others not is a matter of ownership in driving the above happen. Let us take a couple of examples that I gathered from my interaction with a team of middle and senior managers in a workshop recently.

Building teams: Most managers agree that it is their non-negotiable job. And they also understand that the investment they make here will reward them handsomely in the future. But there comes the knowing-doing gap!

Manager hardly find time to interview candidates and keep postponing this as their last priority to be done if there is nothing else to be done. Talent acquisition teams have a hard time keeping the interest of good candidates alive till line managers revive their own interest in doing this key task.

Performance Goal setting: Not withstanding manager training and CEO mails to emphasize how important this is to the motivation of people, many managers tend to postpone doing this on one pretext or other. The most often cited reason that their managers have not done the goal setting to them, so they cannot initiative this exercise for the next level. It is absolutely true that this process is most effective when it is top down. But offering this as an excuse is skirting accountability. Asked how many managers completed their goal setting and followed it through the year, more than 50% of managers attending the workshop from various organizations confessed that they did not initiative this in 2009 as their organizations did not announce any pay hike! As a session facilitator, it took quite some time and some serious discussion for me to get these managers to come around and accept the point of view that goal-setting is not for pay hike but for ensuring we continue to deliver what we are expected to deliver. Just one question nailed their ignorance and lack of accountability at least the level of the mind-set! I asked them if they did not set goals and measure them at the end of the year, on what basis would they determine pay raises in 2010 if their organizations decided to go ahead with a raise for 2010? How will they be able to justify to their team members why they did what they did? This is an area where accountability is needed most on the part of the managers and often found wanting!

Communication: Again, there is a mistaken notion amongst many first line managers and middle managers alike that communication belongs to (a) marketing; (b) CEO/COO and (c) HR function. So, even if these three institutions communicate to the line managers, this does not trickle down to rest of the organization. There is so much of blockage happening, all on account of lack of accountability. Whether it is explaining the vision statement of the Company to a new comer on board, or helping him understand the performance management process or total rewards or company business update, the first line and middle managers seem to believe it is not their responsibility! As a result, communication remains a very badly managed area in many organizations.

One can talk about many other areas where the situation on owning up is no better hurting the organization a lot.

Accountability, like empowerment is taken and not given!

Accountability is best when it is embraced by the line manager and not thrust upon. Managers who make things happen take accountability upon them and not wait for being told to do so. While no responsible individual wants to shirt accountability, there is often a noticeable hesitation due to various reasons. In the process, manager’s own effectiveness is in jeopardy! The accountable manager knows the dictum: “when in doubt, move.” They do not freeze when they are in a state of uncertainty or confusion. Instead, they act. And become more accountable.

It is a competence we can ignore only at our own peril. The price for being an accountability avoider is losing out on one’s own career growth. And the even more disastrous impact is building a reputation in the professional circles as being a passenger with no drive or vision!

The author is Executive Vice President & Chief People Officer, Symphony Services. He can be reached at