Lately, I've been involved in a debate about accountability What's at the heart of the debate? Clarity regarding how much detail is required for someone to feel like they have enough information to hold another person accountable.
In my particular debate, the question revolves around accountability for some longer term goals. The person making the commitment, let's call them Mr. Committer, has made some bold declarations (more directional in nature, although there are some measurable aspects that are clear enough to give a "pass / fail" grade). These declarations won't be complete for at least a year.
Starting with these bigger picture goals, Mr. Committer created a sort of "work back" list - in other words, they began to break the larger commitment down into smaller steps and arranging them in a sensible order, to create an execution plan.
When this person presented their plan to two other people for review, there was a lot of consternation from one of the managers (let's call her Ms. Stickler) along the lines of, "Hey, I don't have enough here to hold you accountable," or "I don't know what to hold you accountable for."
Break down the breakdown
As we began to disect the situation, we discovered that the issue was primarily one of detail:
- Ms. Stickler wanted a fully-fleshed out plan with way more detail than had been presented.
- Mr. Committer complained that he wanted to be held accountable for his results - the "big commit" - and not the specific steps followed to achieve the results.
- Ms. Stickler asked, "How can I hold you accountable over the next few months if I don't have a specific set of steps you'll be following?"
- Mr. Committer retorted, "A lot can change as I learn along the way and I don't want to be locked in - how can I innovate with you bearing down on me about specific steps so early in the process?!?"
- and so forth…
Shift the focus
So how can we break this conflict? In our case, we are trying to focus less on the detailed steps along the way and, instead, have been brainstorming some interim indicators that must be met regardless of the detailed steps we choose to follow.
This, in itself, is still a difficult discussion, but it is far more productive (and far less stifling) than a debate about what specific steps will be taken. In other words, I think we've successfully shifted the emphasis away from the activity, and toward a focus on the desired results.
This transition has been difficult, because we are fighting human nature and personalities in the process (detailed/control-oriented personalities vs. big picture/don't micromanage me personalities).
Any tips or techniques I can steal from you?
I'm sure we didn't get to this point in the easiest way possible. Have you seen this kind of situation before? Have you cracked the code (or at least come up with best known methods to make this easier)?
I'd love to hear your proven techniques for dealing with this kind of issue - please share!