Wednesday, July 25, 2007

accountability? wtf that means?

Ac- count- a- bil- i- ty

The state of being accountable; liability to be called on to render an account; the obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected; accountableness.
[-Webster 1913 ]

Webster provides one of the oldest modern definitions of the word, although the concept is probably as old as society. (In which we hunted, gathered, and held each other accountable). Things were simpler back in 1913. Nowadays words like 'accountability' take on divergent meanings and convey different ideas to different people.

"Accountability is a concept in ethics with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as answerability, enforcement, responsibility, blameworthiness, liability...." (wikipedia)

Words with diverse or various meanings are not such fantastic things to throw around when you are attempting to clearly define and communicate a company vision.

Compared to transparency:

"Accountability differs from transparency in that it only enables negative feedback after a decision or action, while transparency also enables negative feedback before or during a decision or action" (wikipedia)

When everyone is working in integrity, everyone benefits even when mistakes are made. Everyone needs to take responsibility and be actively in integrity in all things all the time, not just at work but in society.
I don't think we should harbor the idea that mistakes are bad and wrong and should be punished in some way. An honest mistake is one that is made in integrity.
A dishonest mistake is an intentional wrongdoing disguised as an honest mistake. Dishonesty is the kind of thing we should be discouraging. Politics, power games, and similar wastes of time all come out of this negative, reactive mentality.

'In another view, accountability is a simple word that, at its root, means: "the willingness to stand up and be counted -- as part of a process, activity or game." In this sense, then, accountability is less something I'm held to, or something done to me; rather, it is a word reflecting personal choice and willingness to contribute to an expressed or implied outcome.' (wikipedia)

That's a very positive interpretation, far from words like liability, blameworthiness, enforcement, etc, which for me bring to mind things like punishment, prison, torture, execution. (Execution is another word that needs some clarification in the corporate context.)

I've been confused lately about the meaning of this word, and now I see why.
Like most words that become a part of corporate dialect, it can be interpreted in a handful of ways. A word with many meanings has no meaning.

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