Are You Accountable?

Employee Engagement, Employee Relations, Rewards and Recognition

Airports may hold great surprises of bumping into some wonderful people. During such few occasions, I could meet celebrities, politicians, my former colleagues, and bosses and sometimes I chanced upon people who are connected with me on Social Media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. That day when I was traveling from Pune to Delhi through Spicejet (SG 184), I met MihirJaitley – the CEO of a leading multi-billion USD Automobile Conglomerate. Previously, I had met Mihir during few NHRDN and other leadership seminars and conclaves. However, to have a one to one conversation with someone who is as successful and influential businessman as Mihir is an enchanted experience in itself. I was contemplating whether I should say hello to him or let go the opportunity. My positive thought won. I mustered all my courage and walked towards him.

 “Hello Sir, I am Sanjeev. I introduced myself. ”You may not remember me but I had few opportunities to meet you during leadership conclaves. The latest I heard you in NHRDN conclave 2014, held in Mumbai”. I went on.

 We then extended our hands for a warm handshake.

 “Hey, Sanjeev, It’s nice to meet you. How are you?” he asked.

 “I am good, Sir. Thank you. It is really nice to see you here”, I responded.

 “Sir, you have unique ideas about how HR can contribute to the growth of an organization. Very different from other business leaders”, I continued.

 “Thank you, Sanjeev. What do you do?” he enquired.

 “Sir, I am working as an Independent Management Consultant from last 1.5 years. I help setting up HR processes and procedures in small and mid-sized organizations during their start-ups. I also help organizations in preparing and grooming their new managers and coaching leaders for bigger roles. Prior to this, I have worked for 15 years with few organizations across India and overseas”, I promptly replied while extending my business card to him.

 “That’s very impressive. I like the phrase you used in your description, “help”. Consultants don’t give free help. They charge a lot of money”, he replied with a sarcastic smile, while extending his business card.

 “Can you think of ways to improve the accountability of managers and leaders in an organizational set-up? Have you done anything in that aspect”, he asked curiously.

 As we were discussing, Spicejet staff made an announcement for boarding the plane.

 “Sir, poor accountability is not a concern of one organization or an industry. It is there in all industries. The primary problem is not with managers or leaders but the way accountability has been defined. By definition, it appears like an attempt to fix the blame for a failure or crisis rather than giving an empowerment to concerned leaders to find a solution. When it comes to fixing the blame, many leaders are likely to surge it off”, I gave an empathetic reply.

“Yes, I have helped few organizations in making their leaders more accountable. I will be glad to help you too, if I get a chance to meet you again and explain the process”, I continued.  

“Well, I just asked you this out of curiosity. We don’t have any such problem in our organization. However, I would like to know more about it. I am traveling for two weeks, I‘ll give you a call after that. Let’s meet sometime”, he responded.

 “Sure Sir. I am looking forward to meeting you again. It’s been nice meeting you”, I told, as I picked my laptop bag to board the plane.

 “Same here Sanjeev. See you. Bye”, he responded. 

I was anxious when there was no call from him for a month. Should I call him or wait? I contemplated again. Maybe he just said he would like to meet me or maybe he was busy. My mind was juggling. Finally, I decided to shoot him an email.

I sent a short email to Mihir, giving him a summary of our meeting and asking him if he would like to meet to take it further.

To my surprise, I received a reply from Mihir within one hour, sent from his iPhone, informing me that he remembers our meeting; however, he is still traveling and will get back to me as soon as possible.

 I didn’t get any communication from him for another TWO months, neither did I bother to send another email to him or call him. Then on one Tuesday in August, almost after six months of our airport meeting in February, I received a call from Mihir asking me if I am free on Friday and if I will be able to visit his office at 3 PM? I responded with affirmation. I had two days to prepare my presentation and be ready for, probably one of the biggest client meet at that point of time.

I was rehearsing my presentation as I was driving my black Mahindra XUV 500 towards his office in Chakan MIDC near Pune. After reaching the office, I was guided to the conference room. Mihir joined me, along with a team of SEVEN people, including Head of HR, Nilesh Gaikwad. I was given ONE hour to complete the session.

 Here is how I made the best use of it.

 The majority of people in organizations today, when confronted with poor performance or unsatisfactory results, immediately begin to formulate excuses, rationalizations, and arguments for why they cannot be held accountable, or, at least, not fully accountable for the problems.

 Most common statements made are:

 “That’s not my job”

“There’s nothing I can do about it”

“Someone ought to tell him”

“All we can do is to wait and see”

“Just tell me what you want me to do”

“If we only had the resources”

“The competition outsmarted us”

“The whole economy is in trouble”

I am sure you might have heard these excuses from your team members and there could be chances of you giving these excuses to your teams, board of directors, customers, etc. Our justification of failure is always focussed on ‘WHY IT COULDN’T BE DONE’ instead of ‘WHAT ELSE COULD HAVE BEEN DONE’.

Let us first understand the meaning of accountability. (I asked the audience to share their understanding of the word accountability). Many people, including leaders, have totally wrong understanding of “Accountability”. They believe,

 “Accountability means finding out who is at fault when something goes wrong.”

“Accountability is used to punish people for poor performance.”

“Accountability is management driven: it’s external, not internal.”

“Accountability means responsibility and obligation. It’s when someone outlines what you are supposed to do in a job description and then rates you A, B or C.”

“Accountability is something that is put on you by your boss. It causes unnecessary pressure, fear, regret, guilt, and resentment.”

“Accountability means being willing to stand up and explain what you did.”

 “Accountability is a tool that management uses to pressure people to perform.”

The dictionary meaning of accountability is - the quality or state of being accountable; especially:  an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.


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