Accountability vs Micromanagement – What’s your default?
Sara Wilson, CPCC, ACC |
In a conversation with a leader this week she said she was learning that accountability is not the same as micro-managing. Wow! What a great thing to learn. It also made me reflect on how many leaders–at all levels–struggle with holding themselves and other individuals accountable.
It’s worth a minute to understand the difference between micromanagement and accountability. The Oxford English Dictionary defines micromanaging as to “control and direct (an enterprise, activity, etc.) in every particular or without substantial delegation of authority.” Merriam Webster defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”
The two are very different. Lots of people are challenged by accountability – and sometimes there is pushback when you try to hold someone accountable. The conflict can also come from within ourselves as accountability can be perceived as being “bossy” and demanding, which is not usually a compliment for women (especially historically). The difficulty with holding others accountable can also come from a lack of confidence or imposter syndrome.
Can accountability be part of a positive organizational culture? YES!
A few of the benefits of accountability
- Increased team efficiency
- Greater employee commitment
- Increased feelings of control and autonomy
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that avoiding holding people accountable is a slippery slope for any leader. When individuals see that accountability and expectations are not applied uniformly across a team or department, eventually the respect for the leader will erode. I’ve seen it happen, I’ve helped rebuild the team where accountability has been unevenly applied or employees who were “difficult” just weren’t held accountable. It’s a situation that’s very hard to recover from.
7 steps toward accountability
- Be a model of accountability, including owning when you mess up.
- Establish clear, desired end results of the assignment or project. One of my favorite sayings about this is “start with the end in mind.”
- Concisely communicate guidelines / guardrails that need to be considered in achieving the end result (note this is not giving specific details of how to do a project).
- Agree on check-in points and project deadlines. Share how the project fits into the bigger picture of the organization and why the specific deadline was established.
- Uphold promises: assess progress at the established check-in dates. A leader who doesn’t follow-through is communicating “deadlines aren’t that important and I’m not holding myself accountable.”
- If the project gets behind, identify how challenges can be resolved, evaluate modifying the deadline or project parameters. Ensure the expectations are clear.
- Appreciate progress and accountability.
Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. When we as leaders aren’t accountable and blame others it disempowers us. When we personally choose accountability it gives us power and the ability to create our success.
“Wisdom stems from personal accountability. We all make mistakes; own them… learn from them. Don’t throw away the lesson by blaming others.”
― Steve Maraboli