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The Business of Learning

Avoid or Embrace Accountability?

Greater accountability will force you to plan and prepare better as well as remain focused.

At the heart of running learning with business discipline is the notion of accountability. In its simplest form accountability implies two things.

  1. You create a plan for the coming year or for your project. The plan needs to contain SMART goals for the most important measures like number of participants, completion date, Kirkpatrick Levels 1-3 and ideally a measure of ultimate success like Level 4 impact. These plans would be set in partnership with the sponsor or stakeholder who has responsibility for the end organizational goal like increasing sales by 10 percent.
  2. You are willing to be accountable or responsible for delivering the plan. This means coming as close as possible to achieving the targets or goals set for the efficiency, effectiveness and outcome measures. The manager will need reports showing how she is doing each month against the plan so she knows whether special action will have to be taken.

Your colleagues in sales, quality, safety and manufacturing already operate this way. They have to submit a plan with SMART goals at the start of the year and they are evaluated on how close they come to delivering the plan.

Historically, HR and L&D have not worked this way. There are plans of course but they generally do not contain many SMART goals. And even when there are SMART goals, the manager is not using reports comparing year-to-date progress against plan to determine where they will have to spend additional effort to make plan. At the end of the year they will share data showing what they accomplished but it will not show a comparison to plan because most never had a plan.

The management philosophy is to work hard and accomplish as much as possible. In our field most do accomplish a tremendous amount but then so do your colleagues in sales and other areas. The difference is that they are accountable to a plan and we generally are not.

Now you might say we are lucky to not be held to the same standard as our colleagues. You might ask why anyone in our field would want this accountability where we have to commit to a plan and then be judged in part on how well we do compared to plan. In other words, we should continue to avoid the type of accountability our colleagues face.

I argue the opposite. We should embrace accountability. Does it make your job more difficult? Yes, it does but it is worth it. You will accomplish more for your organization by taking the time to create a plan with SMART goals and then using monthly reports to ensure that you are delivering that plan.

This type of accountability will force you to do a better and more careful job planning and preparing for the year and then it will also ensure that you remain focused on it throughout the year since that is how your performance will be evaluated. Another benefit is that you will become a better manager by adopting this discipline and can apply it in any future position.

Last, it will put us on equal footing with our colleagues. We should be held to the same level of accountability. Making an exception for HR and L&D only confirms our lower status and lack of business acumen which comes back to haunt us when budgets must be cut. Ever wonder why we are the first to be cut and why the cut will be disproportionately larger than for other departments?

We can continue to avoid accountability buy we will be better served in the long term by embracing it and managing by the same set of rules as our colleagues.