Friday, September 26, 2008

Telling the truth about accountability

All of our systems are built on the presupposition that people will avoid accountability if given an option.

How did that happen?

Being accountable means doing two things as a member of a group or community:
1) observing performance against specific, measurable criteria
2) telling a story (giving an account) of how specific behaviours contribute to specific results.

Here's what we know about human beings:

1) normally functioning human neurology has multiple, sophisticated capabilities that exist only to observe other human beings in relation to ourselves. We observe minute changes in the state and behaviour of the people around us and track how those changes relate to changes in our own neurology, physiology or behaviour. We do this automatically and continuously.

2) human beings are the creatures who tell stories. We tell stories naturally, easily and often. We get huge benefits from telling our own stories. We enjoy telling stories.

If we stop making the observations that allow us to be accountable, we stop functioning as normal human beings. We lose track of the information we need in order to make decisions or take action.

So what does it take to stop people from being accountable? It's a huge amount of work to overcome automatic functions that are part of how we think and respond naturally. We have to really want something - or really want to avoid punishment - if we are to overcome what we do naturally. Think about breaking any habit - it takes will power, exerted continuously over a period of time.

We have to be really motivated to break the accountability habit.

Someone has to be offering us huge rewards for not noticing or keeping silent. Or someone has to be punishing us harshly for noticing or speaking up.

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