Web site spotlight: A well-designed accountability system

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, November 21, 2008

Accountability issues can arise with individuals, groups, and departments. Accountability can also be a very sensitive and emotional issue, whether we are at the corporate level or on the front lines. Issues with accountability usually arise when something has gone wrong and the culture seeks a person to blame. However, a truly progressive organization will realize that an investigation starts with human error but does not end with it.

A well-designed accountability system does the following:

  • Reduces human error by half
  • Builds ownership
  • Improves staff members' performance
  • Leads to effective work practices
  • Is long-term in its scope
  • Is motivation-oriented
  • Promotes self-actualization
  • Maintains good behavior

Most accountability systems fail because of poor design and negative effects. The following are characteristics of a poor accountability system:

  • A basis on fear
  • Similar reward levels for all 
  • Rewards for nonperformers
  • Same punishment no matter the error

A poor accountability system will not inspire workers to perform. Efforts to maintain equity instead of reward performance will prove to be detrimental.

Editor's note: This excerpt was adapted from "The fundamentals of accountability," found in the Reading Room at Get a free trial membership that will give you 30 days to test drive all the exciting features on the Web site.



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