Monday, May 19, 2008

Accountability (Part 1)

From Wikipedia: “Accountability is a concept in ethics with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as answerability, enforcement, responsibility, blameworthiness, liability and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in both the public and private (corporation) worlds. […]

In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions,
products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.”

A few years ago I worked for a Swedish company; one of its core values was “freedom with accountability” which meant that employees were free to act as they saw fit, considering the core values, mission and vision of the company.

So as long as the objectives were met, we were able to come and go from the office, to make our own decisions, to use the company’s resources and to assess situations based on our own principles.

The way most of us responded to this policy was to actually be more responsible, more committed. It taught us that we didn’t need a cop breathing down our necks for us to do better work, to strive for better results, to handle things in on time.

In other words, the company allowed us freedom to choose our courses of action, and in return it got better results from us.

I realize that not everybody will react to such policies in this manner, but rather try to take advantage of the situation to procrastinate and be lazy. Of course in the end, the consequences will be paid.

I am a full supporter of such policies. I believe that being clear about expectations with employees will make it easier to implement these proceedings and, if all goes well, most people will respond the way we did in the Swedish company.

I’m going to touch on three subjects related to accountability: office hours, office site perks and IM in the workplace.

Office hours

There’s usually some office hours policy, right? You’re supposed to go in at certain time in the morning and you’re supposed to leave at some other time in the evening. And you’re supposed to take a fixed amount of time at lunch. This generally applies to everybody except people in sales, or high level managers.

Whenever I’ve been forced to follow the office hours policy, I’ve found myself getting there on time and leaving on time. Not one minute extra. Why? Because it infuriates me that performance and results are measured on a how-long-are-you-at-your-seat basis.

However, whenever I’ve been free to handle my working hours I’ve found myself being more committed to the tasks, mainly because I feel more empowered to manage my time as I see fit, given of course, that I am clear about expectations.

But what exactly are we talking about here?

• Yes, there are office hours, but if you have a personal issue, you can go solve it before coming to the office (Provided this doesn’t cause any trauma on the operation) or leave early to do so.

• Projects and results are evaluated based on completion and quality, instead of how many hours you put into them.

• Weekends are sacred and only you can choose whether or not you go in the office on a weekend to finish something.

• The same goes for after work hours.

• It is expected for the employee to try to balance his working hours with his personal time, as it is vital that employees are rested and energetic to achieve top results in projects.

• It is understood that some personal issues are more important than work.

• People are entitled to take as many breaks as they feel necessary during the day.

Whenever I’ve used these concepts in my experience, employees have never disappointed me.
I leave it out to the community to share some comments about this and about their experiences.

Come back next time, to read Part 2, about office site perks.

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