You Can’t Deny Accountability


Public agencies are under increased pressure to be accountable to their constituents. Residents, business owners, parents, customers, and the media are increasingly scrutinizing the use of public funds, and that includes the cost of human resources.

In most agencies, one of the largest expenditures of public funds is for personnel. Public employee wages, benefits, and pension costs are under a microscope and the most responsible agencies are responding with an enhanced focus on accountability. Revised personnel rules, sharpened performance evaluations systems, and increased consequences for under-performers have become the norm in our world. For example, the State of Arizona legislature has recently passed reforms to the State personnel system and has mandated revised performance evaluation processes for public school teachers. Accountability is the buzzword of our era.

Still, accountability means different things to different people. Though everyone agrees that accountability is a good thing, there are often different answers to some basic questions. For example:

* If teamwork and collaboration are values of your organization and an employee is struggling to get along with co-workers, can the employee qualify for an overall performance rating of “Successful?”

* If an employee is being paid at the top of the pay range and recent market studies have shown that the employee’s compensation is 20% above the market, is the organization being accountable by maintaining the above-market wage?

* If a supervisor knows that an employee is running a “side business” during his at-home telecommuting days and the supervisor knowingly ignores the issue, who is ultimately accountable for the theft of time?

Each of these questions reflect actual situations I’ve seen within the last few months and in each case, someone in the room attempted to explain, justify, rationalize, or otherwise defend each situation.

If you’ve found yourself justifying why things are the way they are, you might be denying accountability too. Here are a few steps for making sure you are driving your organization towards accountability:

1. Recognize the need to shift to a culture of enhanced accountability. As you work through your day-to-day activities, be aware of how you and your staff are being asked to be more accountable. Embrace it.

2. Refocus and re-communicate the core mission of your organization. Being accountable means that you have a laser focus on your mission and why your organization exists. When the mission is not crystal clear, it’s easy to get distracted by bureaucracy.

3. Define and clearly express performance expectations that support the mission. The more specific you can be about what’s expected and then address any gaps between the expected and actual performance, the quicker the organization will adapt to your expectations.

4. Design performance management systems to reward those who support the mission and stop rewarding those who are not contributing. Your performance management system should reinforce what’s important in your agency, rather than rewarding non performance. What’s rewarded in your agency?

Accountability in today’s environment can be difficult to define. It can also be difficult to move towards. But, the power of accountability is undeniable.

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