Motherhood, Apple Pie and Accountability

Author: James Western

Don’t all these terms express the same level of comfort and ease?

“One of these things is not like the other;

One of these things just doesn’t belong.

Can you tell which thing is not like the other;

Before I finish this song?”

Each of us can conceptualize the love, endearment and enjoyment that we feel when we hear the terms motherhood and apple pie based upon our life experiences. Yes, there are some unfortunate individuals whose experiences are diametrically opposite these feelings, but for the majority of people, hearing or contemplating either motherhood or apple pie initiates emotions and memories that are comforting and endearing.

I have never had anyone declare that the missing element of my life that will bring me joy and happiness is accountability. That seems so ridiculous that almost every person who would confront such a nonsensical claim would laugh hysterically at this inane statement. The reason being is that often times their experience with accountability is similar to those whose upbringing by their mother was dispositive or individuals who may be allergic to the materials that comprise apples, making them deeply ill when eaten. As such, hearing the word accountability recalls personal experiences that are punitive, discouraging and frustrating.

Let’s dive a little deeper to understand the dysfunctional causal factors that deter us from wanting to be held accountable, then address the functional approach that will bring us closer to motherhood and apple pie.

Angela Simmons is a digital media marketing specialist for Telamount Systems. Her role is to create online marketing to strengthen the brand of the organization, drive clients to their website and positively impact overall sales of their products and services.

Her boss, Curtis Wellington, has let her know what key performance indicators (KPI’s) will validate her performance. He instituted these metrics himself given what he felt were the appropriate measures to ensure success, and then delivered them to her. Each week she is required to post her performance metrics on their intranet dashboard. If she hits the target numbers, no response comes from Curtis. If she misses them, he immediately asks her what happened and requires that she make up the difference by the end of the coming week, in addition to what is also required for that week. This causes her tremendous stress and pressure to execute perfectly such that he is not frustrated and disappointed.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding her best efforts, she missed her target KPIs for three weeks in a row, essentially hitting 79%, 86% and 87% of the required KPIs. Curtis was so frustrated that he told her that she needed to provide him a new plan of action that will effectively make-up for her missed KPIs over the next six weeks, without any change in her spending budget.

Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Does Curtis have the right to be disappointed in Angela? Yes! Does he have the right to require that she hit KPIs on a recurring basis? Yes! Does he have the right to demand that she develops a new strategic plan owing to the lack of targeted results? Yes! Given that Angela didn’t accomplish the KPI targets and that she reports to Curtis, she may be frustrated and discouraged, while Curtis may be disappointed and doubtful about her ability. I guess this scenario validates that accountability is not a warm and friendly term given their experience. Hmmm, well let’s consider one missing factor that underlies why Curtis’ and Angela’s accountability experience wasn’t positive. This comes down to the phrase mono-directional accountability, which is the common and standard approach in most organizations wherein each person has to account for their performance to the one in which they report, rather than each of them together being responsible for the results.

The problem with mono-directional accountability is that it empowers the person in charge (executive, manager, supervisor etc.), to simply oversee the performance and results of those individuals who report to them, without taking any responsibility for holding themselves accountable to do everything within their power to help them accomplish these KPIs. This is accomplished by evaluating, brainstorming, mentoring et al, in any and every way possible to drive the intended results. Some of the reasons for Angela not accomplishing her KPIs could be due to a lack of professional ability, insufficient budget, shortage of time or absence of peer support to perform their roles, dramatically impacting her KPI results. The unintended consequence of the lack of support can be referred to as dysfunctional accountability. One may generate the intended results from their direct reports via mono-directional accountability, but those individuals often have neutral to negative feelings about the accountability process within the organization, limiting their efforts to what is required and driving their engagement downward over time.

Thus, functional accountability requires that any leader who wants to improve employee engagement, increase the organization’s cultural value and change employees’ interpretation of accountability to something much more meaningful and positive, must do anything within their power to facilitate their direct reports’ ability to win, helping them where necessary and desired, recognizing their efforts and performance both regularly and directly, encouraging them such that they feel their leader’s support and bonding with them such that they feel even more committed to achieve the targeted results. This is bi-directional accountability wherein both the leader and their direct report(s) are jointly responsible for ensuring the results come. That drives team unity, improves employee morale and develops a culture of appreciation and performance.

Curtis, then, demonstrated mono-directional accountability that can cause frustration, discouragement and isolation, forgoing the tangible benefits of bi-directional accountability which brings each employee closer to motherhood and apple pie.

Bryan Ritchie and James Western are co-founders of GrowthSPORT, a successful consulting company whose mission is to improve SCORES (Stimulate Culture, Optimize Results and Engage Staff) for Teams, Divisions, Departments and Organizations through the SPORT model (Strategic Alignment, Personnel Performance, Operational Execution, Results Accountability and Team Strength), which are the Five Core Elements of Success.

GrowthSPORT provides resources, tools and experienced consultants to effectively implement the SPORT performance model from companies ranging from Startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Feel free to reach out to GrowthSPORT at (801) 676-2500 or at


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