Man in suit at the front of a line of blindfolded people

Accountability in the dark is hard

If not impossible

Written by Dr. Shaun Ridley FAIM
2 minute read
Man in suit at the front of a line of blindfolded people

Holding people accountable is a perennial tactic of leaders. It’s part of the drive to achieve results, be more productive and simply get things done. Employees who know they are going to be held accountable, especially if they do so willingly, are likely to be among your top performers.

However, many leaders sabotage their attempts at accountability by not providing the necessary information, data or reporting systems to allow individuals to take direct responsibility for their work.

At its most basic level, an annual budget and monthly reports against that budget are a good example.

Without access to a clear budget and regular progress reports, the person accountable for a portfolio cannot fully embrace their responsibilities.

They may adopt a less than enthusiastic attitude to their work or make poor decisions on expenditure that can frustrate or annoy their supervisor.

Yet the real problem does not lie with the employee.

The problem lies with access to meaningful reports to inform decision making. Forcing people to operate in the dark makes accountability hard, if not impossible.

One reason offered by leaders for withholding information is confidentiality.

They fear full disclosure of budgets, sales targets, project plans and other key documents could risk them being made public or accessible to competitors.

This fear is understandable, but the likelihood of loss arising from withholding information is much greater than the risks of sharing information internally.

Withholding information for confidentiality reasons also signals a lack of trust in your employees – further damaging their motivation to work hard for the organisation.

Working in the dark is frustrating for staff who want to excel, use their initiative and demonstrate their talents. Constantly having to check-in with their manager before making decisions is demoralising.

Guessing is worse.

Working with your staff and finding out what information they need to take full accountability for their tasks, draws back the curtain to shed light on their role.

Once your staff have a clear view of the essential information, they tend to be much better at evaluating their own performance because they see the results at the same time as you. They can also make changes without your intervention.

One more small step in the next 24 hours

After examining your current reports and information sources, consult with your staff to determine how adequately these documents support their work.

Do they receive sufficient feedback from these reports to make decisions and evaluate the success of their initiatives? What additional information would be helpful?

Ask yourself

What impact could this action have on your leadership success? 
How likely is it you could implement this action successfully?