The Space of Accountability


I was in a meeting recently with someone who had the accountability of driving sales in a non-profit. After the meeting was done I was truck by the fact that the salesperson had no goals.

He did not have goals that were set by his boss or anyone else… only 3 years goals. He was not working against a specific short-term target, and was not operating like someone whose job depended on producing results.

In fact, as I sit here typing I realize that I don’t know if the person is a volunteer or an employee, and whether or not they are paid by commission. Usually, I can tell by the level of attention whether someone is paid on commission, and in this case I think that they were not, due to the lack of accountability I felt in the meeting.

The space was “loose,” and seemed filled with what I’m now calling “un-confronts.” No-one in the organization was confronting the fact that the results were paltry, and that there was no plan in place to hit any particular target.

Unless there is some lucky strike, this operation is driving it’s own demise.

Un-confronts” are critical confrontations that are being avoided, either consciously or unconsciously by an organization. They remain in this state either because the people in the organization lack either the skill or the will (or both) to convert the un-confronts into successful outcomes.

As a consultant, part of what I do skillfully is to turn the light on un-confronts, and assist people in converting them. The underlying assumption here (which often goes unstated) is that the people who work in the jobs are the most informed and know exactly what needs to be done, if they could only have the conversations to get them done.

As an outsider, I am often given the power to bring up these conversations, and if I have the trust of the participants, I can facilitate the conversation that they are unable to have without my being there.

This happens on projects, in workshops, in training, in consulting — they are always at work in the full range of interventions that my firm engages in.

Some of the indicators of un-confronts are:-

  • specific justifications as to why the confrontation needs to be avoided — “I can never say THAT to them”
  • bringing up prior failures as a reason for not trying again — “If you had the experience I had, you would never try again either.”
  • a denial that anyone could possibly be successful — “The only thing that will work is them leaving.”
  • an unwillingness to look at developing the necessary skill or will to be successful — “There is no way I could be successful — I hear what you are saying, but what if I fail again?”

Each of the interventions that we design are about creating opportunities to have these conversations successfully, by offering the following:

  • creating the right kind of will (their attitudes and ways of being gets changed in courses that produce a personal shift or change)
  • developing the necessary skill (courses that use video-taped feedback and introduce cutting-edge principles)
  • creating an environment with sufficient positive consequences (by changing reward and pay structures, public awards, promotion criteria, policies)
  • introducing shared communication software (to enable data sharing that vastly improves the content of the data that project team-members share)

Creating this space of accountability takes courage, and is not for every employee (by their own choice). It is, however, for every company that wants to be successful. This is absolutely unavoidable for long-term success.