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Holding others accountable


May 4, 2021
By Isabelle Sauvé and Bruno Seguin

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Credit: ZAIE/ADOBE STOCK

For years, law enforcement agencies have utilized a competency instrument for advancement opportunities that is dependent on “holding others accountable”. Unfortunately, this key performance indicator (KPI) reflects an organization that promotes individuals who prioritize their own career paths over those of their colleagues and the organization itself. This competency, perhaps misunderstood, has had a detrimental impact on morale and has fostered widespread distrust.

The birth of this excessively used competency also reflects the inability for an organization to create an environment where people take ownership. There is a fundamental difference between asking individuals to be accountable and asking people to hold someone else accountable. This difference sits in the culture of the organization. Indeed, lack of accountability is a cultural problem. It’s unlikely that asking people to hold others accountable in order to climb the corporate ladder would change this. If anything, it is likely to exacerbate the fact that the more willing someone is to participate in this process, the less likely they are to have the right competencies and aptitude to lead and manage effectively.

Accountability in a work environment means employees have a strong sense of responsibility for their actions and behaviours, and thus their decisions and performance. It is also correlated to heightened commitment and morale, which inevitably leads to greater performance. A “lack of accountability” is rarely intentional. More often, it stems from underlying issues such as unclear roles and responsibilities, inadequate resources, lack of communication, poor strategy or unrealistic goals—all factors related to management education, training and competencies. The most successful work environments are built on best managerial techniques, strong leadership and trust that allows employees to thrive and adopt self-accountability.

Accountability in the workplace is about ownership, commitment and initiative. At its best, it’s embedded as a core part of the culture, units and teams. It ought to enhance a strong sense of cohesiveness, teamwork and engagement. Accountable workplaces are organized around high performing teams with core values such as trust and respect that consistently demonstrate ownership and promote those values. The challenge is for the organizations that have subsisted with the competencies of “holding others accountable” at the center of their promotion process, rather than a process based on managerial competencies. Indeed, management is more about showing accountability than holding others accountable. It’s about working with others rather than making others work for you.

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Of course, managers must discipline at times, but as long as it’s done correctly, it should provide the support needed to re-engage, motivate and empower employees. Putting people first is critical. Difficult conversations must be had on occasion but “holding others accountable” cannot be interpreted. Actively looking for ways to demonstrate a competency and jumping at any opportunity to look good at the expense of others would only negatively impact the morale of a larger group. So, those in supervisory roles must receive training on how to properly and constructively manage others in a way that builds employee confidence and respect.

Respected CEOs recommend leaders promote autonomy, relatedness and competence. For instance, reframing deadlines and goals as vital milestones rather than using techniques for “holding people accountable”. Helping people align their work with meaningful purpose and values promotes relatedness and is inherently rewarding. Develop competency by asking the right questions. Ask, “what will help you build on your skills?” or “what did you learn?” rather than “what did you get done?”.

The most effective leaders develop an alliance with members. They have the ability to create relationships and cultivate an environment where members are highly committed, want to contribute and be productive. It also creates the framework that allows members to become internally motivated to work hard so they don’t let their leaders down.

If we want our members to engage, be respectful of the organizations and their management, we must foster an environment that inspires employees to take ownership, learn, work better and achieve more.


Isabelle Sauvé is a 13-year veteran with the OPP, currently with the Lanark County Detachment. She has a MA in psychology and is a PhD candidate. She is also an ultramarathon/endurance athlete and the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series winner as well as a Guinness World record holder. She can be contacted at: isabelle.sauve@hotmail.com.

Bruno Seguin is a senior executive manager and international business consultant with experience in global operations, international business development, strategic planning, leadership and corporate governance. He is also an ultra-runner, 9th place finisher at the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series and fellow Guinness World record holder.