Abraham Maslow believed the role of management is to create the “social conditions in [the] organization so that the goals of the individual merge with the goals of the organization.” Accountability is one of the essential factors contributing to this merger.
Accountability occurs when a person bears the consequences (good or bad) of a decision or action. It starts by establishing clear decision rights and building a culture of Principled Entrepreneurship™. This helps avoid inaction, abdication, plunging or finger-pointing.
Personal accountability is an unpopular concept these days. As economist Thomas Sowell observed: “We seem to be getting closer and closer to a situation where nobody is responsible for what they did but we are all responsible for what somebody else did.” Accountability, properly understood, is to take account of what happened and appropriately recognize those who contributed positively or negatively to results. We always want to understand the full context of the outcome and whether or not behavior was consistent with Our Values when determining the appropriate response.
In a business, accountability for positive outcomes could lead to building greater capabilities resulting in additional opportunities. For an individual, it could lead to expanded and new opportunities to contribute and increased rewards. We recognize and reward contributions that build capabilities and generate results – including past contributions that haven’t been fully rewarded. And we don’t penalize well-designed experiments that fail, as they create knowledge leading to better decisions.
Accountability for negative outcomes could lead to a change in direction, structure or personnel, or even exiting the business. For an individual, it could lead to additional coaching and feedback, adjusting responsibilities or, when the person isn’t a fit, leaving Koch. In such cases, it gives individuals the opportunity to start with a clean slate where they can better contribute.
For Koch to succeed, every initiative needs an owner with clear responsibility who is held accountable for its results in harmony with our principle-based framework. Ongoing coaching and feedback help employees understand what is and what is not working. The goal is to help individuals learn and improve. Providing feedback, especially when related to performance gaps, is not enough. Accountability includes the necessary follow-up to ensure sufficient progress is being made and determine the appropriate action when it is not.
As Charles Koch wrote in “Good Profit”: “Holding ourselves and others accountable also requires courage and intellectual honesty, especially when we are faced with the unpleasant task of dealing with the performance or behavior issues of a coworker. A culture that lacks accountability lacks integrity and cannot survive, let alone thrive.”