“Accountability” is a favorite word to invoke when the lack of it has become so apparent – such as now, with the global financial crisis. It is also a loaded word and political football in major sectors crying out for reform, such as health care and public education. Who should get what data about physician success rates, hospital effectiveness, student achievement, or school performance? What should be measured or tested, and what should be done with the data? Should physician reimbursement be outcome-based, and what factors should be part of outcome measurement? Should teachers be held accountable for the academic success or failure of their students?
In the best companies, detailed performance metrics, benchmarks for comparison, and quantitative evaluations have become a way of life. People are expected to hold up a mirror to examine themselves and their teams. But accountability is still controversial in areas that the public cares about.
One reason that performance ratings are so threatening is that internal performance reviews are often done so badly. They’re often robotic annual bureaucratic exercises-even if the feedback comes from all levels in 360-degree fashion–to check off the boxes for salary purposes. In chronically poor-performing organizations, performance discussions don’t involve coaching about constructive actions for improvement, and managers don’t engage peers in reviewing performance data together to find solutions. Some managers are just as afraid to give feedback as staff are to receive it. Others use data for blame rather than improvement, turning performance reviews into weapons of persecution; it’s no wonder that people want to hide. But that doesn’t help anyone do a better job.”
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