I have noticed vast differences in how different individuals define the term “accountability” so its not surprising that different generations might approach accountability from very different perspectives. The older generations had no better handle on accountability than Millennials, so most executives are dissatisfied (and have been for generations) with strategy execution and the level of achievement in their organization. Accountability continues to be a core problem in organizations and is sometimes blamed on generational differences.

In my generation, accountability was seen as doing exactly as the boss instructs. When things didn’t work as expected, the boss researched the problem and gave more detailed instructions. The tone of clarifying instructions was direct and sometimes loud. Today’s employee expects more, and quite frankly have more on their plate. Rapid change, global competition, and endless threat/opportunities from new technologies requires stronger participation in problem-solving or even problem-solving without management involvement.

Employees must solve problems associated with their role, and managers no longer need to act like drill-sergeants. In fact managing like a drill-sergeant undermines real accountability if the organization is designed appropriately for the complex and fast changing world faced by today’s organizations. Today’s organizations need creative problem solving and rapid execution at every level of the structure. In addition, employees expect to be challenged in their work and want to be part of something greater than themselves. Managers are charged with delivering on this promise by setting consistent and challenging expectations of everyone in the organization.

Managers today should define accountability through their actions in the following ways:

  1. Setting context is a daily responsibility for every manager. Employees, especially Millennials, want to understand the “why?” of the organization and the daily tasks.
  2. Ensure that each role/task is clearly defined and the work of the role (or task) is at an appropriate level of complexity. People want to use their full capability at work and therefore managers should be clear about the level of work and what results they expect.
  3. Ask clarifying questions. While managers should never do the work of their employees for them, the managers should understand “how” the employees are going about solving problems and delivering results. In essence the manager should validate that employees understand and are using good judgement in finding ways to deliver the expected results.
  4. Give regular feedback. These feedback sessions should at a minimum include routine one on one meetings with each employee. Feedback includes both what an employee is doing well and what might be improved. These coaching sessions ensure the manager and each employee are building a strong, two way, productive relationship and that the employee is developing in their role and toward any future roles.

If you feel stuck in the last century’s definition of accountability, let’s chat about how you might refine your accountability methods to be more effective.


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