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When accountability collides with the vagaries of change

 By: Janaki Rajagopalan

Nostalgia has this habit of throwing up awkward memories that first imprison you with uncomfortable truths – and then liberate you if you have the honesty to admit your inadequacy and draw lessons from them.

A couple of weeks back I was reminiscing about years ago when my kid took me to task with serious reproach and disappointment for coming home from work later than I had promised I would. Never mind if I had remembered the promise and left early but was stuck badly in a traffic jam. The outcome was what mattered to her – do not make your intentions your commitment, she was clear, even then.

That set me thinking about a very important dimension of accountability. To what extent do we factor in the critical element of change when we commit ourselves to  responsibility and ownership? Or do we at all?

I played the spoilsport that day to challenge my commitment to accountability. I asked myself this – when I say ‘I’ll do my best’, do I base my commitment on merely what I see or intend to do today? Am I actually saying that I will do it as long as it goes according to what I think will happen without any changes or roadblocks? Or am I committing myself to do exactly as I promise, come what may, come what changes or problems?

The more I thought about it, the more I was unsure about the pedestal of accountability I placed myself on with pride.

This is a valuable lesson we need to take to our workplace too.

Let us rule out certain scenarios here. We are not the conniving ones who mask our real intentions and say yes. Neither are we the weak ones who say yes knowing fully well that we cannot do what we said yes to – but do not want to be seen as someone unwilling to step up and do our part.

WPE6That makes us the earnest ones, the honest ones who really do mean to fulfill the commitment we give our peers, our teams and our leaders. But even as we do so, do we ask ourselves “Am I aware of what can go wrong?” “Can I overcome hurdles as they arise?” “Am I competent to manage the imponderables?”

These answers are what lead to the real meaning of ‘Am I really committed and accountable?’ The Oz definition of accountability perhaps comes close to defining this – “Accountability is a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results”

We live in a world of constant change – this is an obvious reality. Equally realistic is the fact that each of us has our individual boundaries that does not take into account negative changes under which we can or cannot perform to what we commit.

Once we acknowledge this, we can now place our idealistic layer of our will to meet our obligation and agreement, to overcome problems when they occur and to be creative about our counter actions. This gives us the fortitude to surmount factors that threaten our success, to renegotiate responsibility with integrity when faced with changing circumstances, and to be answerable with corrective fixes for resulting consequences.

This truly does liberate us – even as we make our commitments, and subsequently as we meet them. We will find ourselves focusing our energy on finding solutions to meet our obligations rather than finding loopholes to skirt accountability. We will then shy away from allowing game changes to become deal breakers.  And we will make smarter deals with our determination and persistence in managing those unexpected and unintended breaches of accountability.