To a considerable degree many have denied or ignored the fact that the realm of the invisible underlies the visibly observable and measurable world. As a consequence there is an inordinate amount of importance placed on tangible results. So much so that many use results to get people to provide more results. Accountability is what it is all about. It changes relationships between the leader and the led and between the worker and the work.
Holding people accountable for results uses fear of reprimand to get them to do what you want. If you do that you will get this—implied also is if you don’t you will get what you don’t want—characterizes the relationship between leader and led. In short the leader is there to administer pain and pleasure. This is nothing more than the use of force to cause others to do what you wish them to do—what Herzberg has referred to as KITA, a psychological a kick-in-the-ass.
Why do many managers do this? Half-jokingly Herzberg said people do this because a physical kick could cause bodily harm! Likely they do it because they are clueless about human nature and/or it is all they that they know—it is all they have seen and heard done.
Treating people as objects or as if they were laboratory animals—as if they were less than human—is at least dishonoring and at most criminal. What gives those in management the license to do this? Legitimate authority by virtue of one’s position in the hierarchy of an organization provides the means. However it is unfortunate that because it takes place within the corporate realm—where principles of justice and democracy have no claim—it is what keeps them from being arrested for committing a crime against humanity.
Holding people accountable as your motivation tool necessarily means using management’s 3-R’s—results, ranking and reward. You set numerical goals, announce that a reward will be given to the top result-getter, measure results relative to the goal, rank order the people you mange and distribute the rewards and punishments accordingly. Clearly this approach doesn’t require knowing anything about the work or about the people doing the work. All that is required is the ability to count, rank and understand grade-school arithmetic.
Proponents of this approach often use the argument that they are just motivating people to uphold their responsibility to the task at hand. Really aren’t people simply responsible for the work they are hired to do! Of course they are, but by applying force you get people to move—there is no question about that—but movement is not motivation. I could push my dog out the door or bribe her with a doggie treat—either approach is a form of KITA, one physical the other non-physical. The result is that she moves from inside to outside, yet she wasn’t motivated to do so. It was I who was motivated to get her out the door, so I forced her out.
The proponents’ argument continues claiming, but it gets the job done and that is all that matters! So results are all that matter, eh! This is not a situation of the ends justifies the means or of no-harm-no-foul! Since reward and punishment are opposite sides of the same coin, you can’t use one without at the same time using the other—not getting a reward is punishment. Using force—euphemistically accountability—is a lot easier though clearly not lastingly effective.
Importance of Meaning
Herzberg’s answer to the question how do you motivate others is “give them something motivating to do.” Okay so what’s motivating to others? First we must understand that motivation emerges from meaning. When an activity is meaningful to us we are energized to engage in that activity. Consequently if what you want others to do is so important then it seems logical that you would enable them to understand the importance of it all? Don’t you believe that if they understood as you do they’d see the meaning in it all?
Moreover meaning is contextual. We all know that when things are taken out of context—when things are placed in a different framework—they lose their intended meaning and thus the very nature of the thing changes. Accordingly, when we place one’s job in a reward-punishment context we unavoidably change the very meaning of the work itself. The relationship to the work changes! The value of the work now lies in the reward gained or punishment avoided, and not in the value of the activity in and of itself.
Quality Work is Meaningful
The essence of quality is inextricably connected to meaning. However because of an emphasis on numerical goals, people no longer strive to produce quality they strive to hit the number. The work itself is pointless if it was not for the reward it afforded; and customers are mere instruments to this end. We seek not to engage our very being in our work and to delight customers but rather to gain the reward, the prize, the profit.
In education, teachers and administrators no longer seek to facilitate learning, as they’ve been commanded to turn their attention to students passing the test or graduating. In the education system management’s 3-Rs of results-rate-reward render education’s 3-Rs inconsequential to the real metrics of test scores and graduation rates. So delivering results, not facilitating learning, is what matters.
Doing meaningful work contributes to our wellbeing and to the wellbeing of those who are touched by our work. Yet unfortunately meaning has been expunged from our activities and with it so too has intrinsic motivation. It is not that the absence of meaning leaves us in a neutral situation; meaninglessness brings about low-level energy—depression, apathy, and fear—which is clearly detrimental. Accordingly, doing meaningless work leads us to see life—one’s own and others’—as empty and pointless. No wonder we don’t care about our work or about our self for that matter!
Since (human) achievement requires intrinsic motivation, then achievement is either enabled or disabled by the context within which the work is to occur. So we must attend to ensuring that the context of the work we offer others is both enabling and ennobling.
So when we hear people utter we need to make (other) people accountable for results we should know that it is they who haven’t a clue of what to do for improvement.