Here is what we found when we studied accountability in poor organisations: The hallmark of a low accountability organisation is a steep, rigid hierarchy where whatever the boss says goes. This is actually a lack of accountability and means that only bosses get to hold people accountable. In today’s workplace, we need peers holding peers accountable. We also need peers and employees holding their bosses accountable.
If you can’t hold your boss accountable – if your boss gets away with this rigid hierarchy – you work in a low accountability organisation where you’re going to have all kinds of problems. While it’s a challenge to change this type of accountability structure, it’s necessary if you want to have an effective organisation.
Silence, Violence, or Effective Accountability
We live in a culture where people tend to deal with issues of accountability through silence or violence. It’s a low accountability culture. It’s countercultural to speak up. And yet, here we are in this environment and let’s say you decide to speak up to your boss.
Here’s the big question: Is your boss going to see this as silence or violence when you speak up? Violence, right?
In the first words and phrases out of your mouth, you’ve got to find a way to say “this is not an attack”. How do you communicate that you aren’t attacking them, but trying to resolve an issue through healthy accountability?
Mutual Respect and Mutual Purpose
Here’s an adage you often hear in the military: “Always salute the flag before you disagree with your commanding officer.”
What does it mean to salute the flag before you disagree? It means to show respect, right? It means to show respect for their role and their position – for who they are as a person.
It also shows that you’re on the same side. You’re on the same team and you serve under the same flag. We call that mutual purpose. By showing that you’re on the same side of an issue, you’re communicating that you want what they want and that you’re here to help them.
If you can communicate respect and purpose, that’s how you say this is not an attack. This is how you initiate a moment of crucial accountability in a healthy, safe way.