Those of you who have seen me at conferences over the past couple of years, will know that I have been wrestling with the notions of accountability and performance, which I believe are inter-connected. With this in mind I have been meaning to post a link for several weeks now (travels intervened) to this very rich post by Glenda Eoyang when she was guest blogger at Cognitive Edge back in December.

Glenda uses the Cynefin framework to identify three different types of accountability, depending on the type of environment you are dealing with:

Outcome-based accountability in stable, well-understood, ordered systems
Learning-based accountability in active, self-organising systems – “Instead of being held accountable to outcomes, individuals and groups can be held accountable for learning, shared meaning making, and directional movement. Are individuals and groups learning new things? Is shared meaning being constructed and/or maintained? Is the trend-line of processes and products moving toward a desirable goal?”
Sharing-based accountability in systems tending towards the random and chaotic – In these situations, people can be held accountable to explore and share. In the same way that an ant colony spreads out in random patterns, finds a juicy spot, then returns to share the news, people hunt and gather. In random systems, people must be held accountable to gather and disseminate information. This behavior over time increases the coherence of system-wide understanding and action.”

To my mind this makes a very interesting connection to ideas of performance, indeed, it implies that accountability and performance tend to merge into each other as the environment becomes more chaotic and poorly understood.

There is a risk if you distinguish too clearly between these types of situation, however… we do not absolve people of responsibility, praise or blame for the outcomes of their actions even in the most difficult and unfamiliar of circumstances. Outcomes matter to us, not just learning, and not just sharing. So I liked the way Glenda followed up with this remark in her reply to comments:

“The real challenge-for me as a leader and as a consultant-is to consider these dimensions simultaneously and each in the context of others. I can no more focus solely on predictable outcomes than I can focus solely on emergent patterns or broad exploration of the territory. To be effective, I have to do them all at the same time… Though our discourse often focuses on distinction, we need to be able to move with some agility across the complex landscape that lies between the two.”

1 Comment so far

Graham Durant-Law

Hi Patrick,I think this is a very interesting post.  I too have been struggling with the notions of accountability and performance.  In the project management literature the link is often made between accountability, authority, and responsibility, which are said to be intrinsically linked.

As you are aware I have extended this to include awareness, knowledge, experience, resources and systems.  This creates a framework which I call RAAAKERS.  I have found RAAAKERS to be useful, and recently published a case-study paper which is available at this link .  You may find it interesting, as it provides some more background and detail on the vinette presented at iKMS 2008.  Let me know if you want more information.

Best Regards

Posted on January 14, 2009 at 06:19 AM | Comment permalink

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