Leadership and Management

Accounting of Accountability Versus Account of Accountability

I am an Accountant by education and then became a software specialist by profession and now an individual and organizational behavioral specialist by passion. For me understanding of Accounting came in very naturally because besides the education in Accounting I was born in a Marwadi family where Accounting is part of most conversations. However the Accounting that I am going to talk about in this blog is not about the accounting of profit and loss but about ownership, taking responsibility and adding value to oneself and to the organization.
Accounting of Accountability is keeping a tab or count (Accounting) of what one is suppose to do and keep doing that. It is like a checklist that one maintains and keeps doing the work irrespective of whether the effort is adding any value to oneself or to the organization. On the other hand Account of Accountability is constantly checking (Account) of whether the work one is doing is adding value to oneself or to the organization. On the face of it one may say that we all should be doing Account and not Accounting of Accountability but you will observe that majority of the people do Accounting and not Account of Accountability. Let me share my thoughts on why they do that and what can we do to change that.
The first reason people do Accounting and not Account is because the leaders or the organization did not do enough conversation with them on WIIFM – What’s in it for me (WIIFM is a sophisticated term for the marwadi community term “Mujhe kya fayda” or in my nearest cousins Gujarati language “Mane su faydo”). If people are not explained why they should do certain things and the rationale behind the tasks they are suppose to do, they usually get disengaged soon and get into doing Accounting. So whenever you run a initiative or define a process it is important to check if you have taken care of WIIFM for all the people involved. I know that with constant pressure to deliver in short time we may at times have hard time finding time to spend on WIIFM but if we don’t do that then we will anyway have hard time with Accounting and no Account of Accountability. Please spend few minutes as you read this blog to think about why people are doing Accounting and not Account in your circuit and possibly you will find the missing WIIFM.
The second reason people do Accounting and not Account is when they don’t understand the big picture. To a large extent I think this is the Accountability of each leader and management team to ensure that each one understands the big picture. I would like to share the story of the NASA security guard near the lift area who use to run around asking the NASA scientists to move into respective queues of the multiple lifts so that they can reach their floor faster. So one day a scientist asked the security guard what motivates him to do this activity of moving people around with so much enthusiasm (Account) every day. The security guard said that if he did not do that every day then the scientists may get delayed to reach at their desk and it may impact the launch of satellites. You can see how the security guard took the responsibility (Account) of value adding to NASA versus just standing (Accounting) there as a security guard. In the conversation with the scientist the security guard further shared that the head of NASA one day had given the big picture of NASA to all employees and how each one needs to take responsibility (Account) for success of NASA. Please spend few minutes to see if you have given a big picture to your teams and even if you have done that please plan to do it one more time now as it will help enhance the Account of Accountability.
The third reason people do Accounting and not Account is most people don’t have a positive experience in their work lives. So a new employee who joins us from an organization where the above two situations were present (missing WIIFM and no big picture) then there is a possibility that he will continue with Accounting in your organization also. As a leader it is your responsibility to give them a new experience and help them forget their past and create a new future with Account of Accountability. My earlier blog “Inside Out or Outside In” can be a good read when you plan to create giving a new experience to your employees. Please spend few minutes to reflect on how would you create that positive experience for people in your circuit.
The fourth reason people do Accounting and not Account is they don’t feel safe to challenge the status quo and only when people challenge status quo they can add value (Account) to themselves and to the organization. By feeling safe I mean that a common mistake most leaders do in All Hands Meet or in any regular team meetings is asking the employee who gives suggestions on any change to implement that suggestion himself. In one sense there is no harm in asking people to volunteer but that is not a safe way to do as many people need time to think about getting involved and asking them right there in the meeting puts them on the spot and people stop speaking in any future meetings. The spiral downfall of such behavior of the leader is that over a period of time no body speaks in the meetings and everybody gets into Accounting and not Account of Accountability. Please spend few minutes and reflect on how much safe environment are you giving to your people to speak up.
There may be many more reasons besides the one’s I have shared on why Accounting of Accountability happens more than Account of Accountability and I look forward to your thoughts. I sincerely hope that the above will help you in converting Accounting to Account of Accountability in your teams / organizations. While I have talked about only professional setup but the above can be applied in your personal lives as well and you will start seeing why your teenage son or daughter or even your spouse don’t speak much (Account) and speak only what you like to hear (Accounting). Either there is a missing WIIFM or you have not shared the big picture of how the family should lead the life together or they have not had a positive experience with you when you were busy building your career brushing off most conversations or they don’t feel safe to talk to you. I would be equally keen to hear your personal experiences also on this journey of turning Accounting to Account of Accountability.

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