Joe Marchese

Personal Web Site

Accountability (aka, taking Control)

I get to indulge myself by opening with two quotes.

There are risks and costs to a program of action.  But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

            --         John F. Kennedy

Do it.  It's a lot easier to apologize for it later than it is to get permission to do it in the first place.

            --         Admiral Grace Hopper, USN (Ret.), developer of COBOL, and (until 1986) the oldest active service officer

Your boss is going to hate this blog.  Because I am going to let you in on the secret of who really has the accountability in your organization.

You are.

Being accountable (the third among my critical success factors after commitment and cooperation), or having a say in the conduct of your job, is often cited as the #1 ingredient for job satisfaction.  Most people do not exercise as much control as they'd like, but I hope that you perceive that you have considerable control over your position.  If not, you're doing it all wrong.  If you, as well as the business, are to make progress, you have to assert yourself in your role.

Don't be overly concerned with policies and procedures set up by someone else to suit a set of circumstances that have not existed in a long time.  Procedures are designed to achieve a consistent level of performance.  But consistency is not next to godliness.  Consistency is good, but we need to achieve excellence.  That means taking action on the spot to meet client expectations.  Besides, most rules are intended to defeat the timid.  There is no good to be realized by your doing only and exactly what your manager tells you to.  If you did behave that way, most bosses for that fact would be forced to say that they don't need you.  But I deeply believe that we need every single one of you.

You know better than to think that I am suggesting anarchy.  My blog on Cooperation should be a reminder of that very important element to a successful organization.  But if you can see a better way to get things done, do it -- don't ask permission if you don't want to be told "no".  I could say that you owe it to the organization, but more importantly, you owe it to yourself and to each other.

Don't forget that actions have consequences -- that's what taking accountability is all about.  Traditionally, most organizations have depended on hierarchy, and hierarchy and independent action do not always mix well.  Have confidence in yourself so that when you believe you're right, you will succeed.  Just remember that "can do" does not necessarily mean "can't fail": that's the trap in which the folks at NASA got caught with the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia as a result.  Besides, the price for failing in any endeavor worth trying within many organizations is very low, as long as they are fast, cheap failures.  It's far more important to stay faithful to organizational values than to organizational procedures.  In case you think that I'm the only whacko who believes this stuff, take a look at the set of principles at the bottom of the page. 

Taking accountability requires courage -- I never said it was going to be easy.  Despite the risks, I personally find it easier to live with the consequences than with the frustration of always waiting for approval.  Life's too short....  Like many other situations, exercising control requires balance -- it's OK to be a little crazy, but don't be stupid.  Each of us is born with the common sense that it's not wise to wave red to a bull.

Perhaps the best reinforcement of taking action, taking accountability, comes from the Disney Co.  I attended a seminar given by Disney a few years back in which they described their secret for success (which they refer to as "Pixie Dust").  During the presentation, as attendees waited for the magic formula, each became disappointed that it never appeared.  Then it occurred to me.  What sets Disney management apart for excellence in their business (as well as most leaders in any industry) is that they do everything that the rest of us read about, and talk about, and dream about, and know we should do, but don't do for any number of reasons.  They take control by refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that any bold plan of action cannot be done.

John Lennon would be proud.

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Accountability is taking responsibility before the fact, rather than after the fact.

It is taking a stand, and standing by it.

When those who are accountable are right, they take the credit.  When they're wrong, they take the heat.  It's a fair exchange.

Accountability is a way of working.

Those who practice it have an unspoken respect for each other... and a visible disdain for the absent-minded apologizers, mumbling excuse makers, and trembling fence-sitters who run from integrity as if it were the plague.

              --          Lehman Brothers, 1987

Alas... if they only still walked the talk.