We talk a lot about “accountability”— why we need it, how to get it, what it means. But I don’t believe accountability is what we’re really looking for, not in a lean organization anyway.
Accountability is a middle management term: You are not doing your job so I’m going to make sure you do it. Many organizations have a layer of management making sure employees complete their work and achieve their goals. In fact, accountability reinforces the Management/Employee relationship. Every company has “employees,” “staff,” or “subordinates” at some level. And traditionally, the lower the level, the stronger the need for accountability.
What if “accountability” is the PC term for the modern Taylorism? And what if that struggle to find and define accountability is actually a symptom of a company’s move from a traditional hierarchy to a lean organization? If so, I would say that it’s not accountability that we’re looking for, it’s ownership.
Ownership is a mindset and suggests Teamwork and personal responsibility. While every company may have “employees,” not every company works as a Team. In a Team, every player has a significant role that he or she is personally responsible for not only executing, but improving. That improvement may be in strategy or it may be in personal growth. Either way, Team Players see themselves as solely responsible for the execution, completion and success of their role. And Teams execute on a coordinated level that makes it appear that if any one fails, the entire team risks losing.
An employee lacks this level of personal responsibility for execution. An employee knows that when he or she punches the time clock at 5:00, a Manager will ultimately be responsible to complete the job. That Manager may delegate it, but someone else is responsible. For an Employee, the worst that could happen is an earful from those holding him accountable (or possibly having to go find another job). But in a Team environment, the worst that could happen is you let down those who are depending on you.
Clearly, ownership lies in that Team Mentality. So the question becomes, how does a company move from a staff of employees to an organization of Team Players?