Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autonomy & Responsibility vs Scapegoating


People dislike the word accountable, probably because they associate it with blame. That shortsighted, glass half-empty perspective can hold you back. Autonomy, the freedom to make your own decisions, continues to rank among the top desires of people in their work life. Accountability is not, “Who's to blame?” it's “Who's responsible?” When you're responsible for something but decide not to act, that’s called abdication, which is a fancy word for quitting.  Autonomy without accountability is kind of silly.

I was once engaged to help on a project that had gone awry. I asked the team who was accountable for various parts of the project and told them it was their responsibility to find ways to fix the errors within their purview. I wasn't blaming them I was reiterating their duties. Senior management was skittish and said, “Don't you think you're being too rough? We’re all in this together.” That’s great, but it was false. They permitted autonomy but not responsibility. Kind of silly, right? 

On a separate occasion, the same organization had another project that it’s leadership had abdicated. I didn’t know any of the particulars when I was called in, other than their customer was ticked off. I took over the project and asked the role of each stakeholder. I told everyone I was the one ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project, but they were responsible for their individual roles. Most people were relieved, because the target was off their back, and they had a new person to blame if things continued to go wrong. I held regular progress report meetings and when something stalled, the causal was evident to everyone. 

During the first few meetings, the client was still angry, and they took it out on me. I didn’t take it personally. Instead, I let them continue to vent their frustrations, which allowed me to learn their core frustrations. I took their blame head on because I assumed accountability for the entire project. Some people called it falling on the sword. The status meeting communication was frequent and thorough, so everyone knew who or what truly hampered progress. As we worked closer with the client they began to share in some blame and by the end of the project they were singing our praises. We moved from the cusp of being thrown out, to being named their provider of choice, because we chose accountability over scapegoating.

Being accountable isn't easy, which is why so many people shirk it. When you accept accountability it's empowering, and things do get easier. You have a choice. If things are not going well in your relationship or your finances, your current skill set, your health outlook or any other area of your life, are you going to use the government, the economy, the weather or your parents as a scapegoat for you? Blaming gets pretty boring. Taking responsibility, now that's exciting. You can actually do stuff. 

Pick one or two things you’ve blamed on others and ask yourself, “For what part of this problem am I accountable?” Show some leadership. Accept responsibility and get to work on improving what’s within your power to improve. You’ll be pleasantly stunned by what you can accomplish.