Tuesday, January 10, 2006

And it isn't a zero sum game, either.

I have been thinking lately about the notion of accountability. Formal and implicit, at work or at home or in your social life or in politics. I think there is a sense that accountability mainly arises from a formal agreement between two parties whereby one of the parties agrees to perform some action for some reward and agrees to take on consequences if the action is not completed. But let's examine this.

I guess this is close to how it's supposed to work in most people's workplaces. Without accountability, there is no way to measure performance (whatever that means). An accountability is a contract between employer and employee that the employee is willing to be responsible (and paid for) a certain kind and quality of work. Deliver on your accountabilities and keep getting paid; surpass them and you get a raise; fail to deliver and you get fired. Except ask anyone who's ever had a job how often it really works this way. Have you ever surpassed your accountabilities and not been promoted? Have you ever had slacker co-workers who miss all their accountabilities but somehow still show up for work every day? Have you ever been held accountable for things you never (thought you) agreed to do? Chances are most people can answer yes to at least one of the above questions (especially if you work for the current presidential administration).

But leave the professional domain and things get worse, not better. Have you ever known a couple to break up (or been breaker up, or breakee) because someone didn't send flowers / forgot to call last night / checked out one too many people walking by / was a terrible cook / failed to convert to SO's religion / voted for the wrong candidate / said thanks, but they'd rather hang out with their friends tonight? In these cases the accountability isn't formal, and it apparently isn't agreed upon very much of the time either, and yet in these cases especially, people get their feelings hurt.

Try to make a list of all the things you're accountable for. Even if you've never agreed to anything, you might be crushed by the weight of the list.


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