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In-Depth Review

Accountability: Freedom and Responsibility without Control
Rob Lebow and Randy Spitzer
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002 1st Edition
276 pages (paperback) ISBN 1-57675-183-X

Summary
How do we get our team members to be accountable for their project work, for creating quality work, on schedule, and within cost commitments? Does a "command and control" approach really work? Are rewards, incentives, and performance appraisals the answer to getting the performance we need? This book's answer is that such approaches don't work well at all, at least in their typical form! This book provides alternative approaches via a fast-read story-based format.


Discussion
How do we get our team members to be accountable for their project work, for creating quality work, on schedule, and within cost commitments? Does a "command and control" approach really work? Are rewards, incentives, and performance appraisals the answer to getting the performance we need? This book's answer is that such approaches don't work well at all!

Accountability is an interesting read no matter what your level of "management title" – it has interesting insights for project managers, functional managers, and project-sponsor executives alike. If you're the VP or Director responsible for projects, what kinds of reward systems should you put in place? If you're a project manager who has responsibility for the projects but not functional authority over all the people on the project team, how should you try to influence those who control the incentive systems? If you're a functional manager directly responsible for key team members, how do you ensure they'll perform at their best on each project?

The idea of "accountability" in the project world is that if team members know the goals of the business and the goals of each project, they should be willing and able to take personal responsibility to perform. This book presents thought-provoking challenges to "accepted" approaches to managing and motivating people to their best performance.

Accountability is written as a story, similar to the One-Minute-Manager and Who Moved My Cheese parables. This format is welcome for a subject like this because it helps bring the ideas to life and makes for a fast read. The book's focus is how to encourage employees to be more accountable—and therefore more valuable to a company—without relying upon such manipulative measures as incentive plans or employee recognition programs. The concepts are illustrated through the interactions of several characters, one of whom is a CEO facing significant challenges in growing and improving the performance of his organization. Many of the story's elements are therefore more "operational" in focus (employees working together to solve operational problems) than "project-oriented," but the lessons can be applied to project performance, and there are project-related examples as well.

During the story the CEO gets advice from a more seasoned executive that causes him to challenge "accepted wisdom" about motivating employees. The book identifies the following 10 control-based ideas as ones that actually destroy individuals' accountability: Incentive programs and pay-for-performance plans; internal competition; performance reviews; forced ranking systems; personal improvement plans; managing people; restrictive policies and procedures; employee recognition programs; missions, visions and value statement; and traditional job descriptions. The authors pull directly from management techniques and theories of Peter Drucker, W. Edwards Deming, and others to offer some practical alternative approaches to getting people to take personal responsibility.

Examples of a few points from the book:

"In a freedom-based organization, compensation systems are designed primarily to encourage staff members to take on greater responsibilities. And people are rewarded for their ability to transfer knowledge and experience to other staff members."
"A control-based workplace is 10 percent coaching and mentoring. A freedom-based environment is 60 percent coaching and mentoring."
"There are people working for you right now who want desperately to make a difference, but many of them, because of the control-based environment in which they work, have lost their interest and enthusiasm."

The book is divided into two sections: The Control Vs. Freedom Dilemma, and Creating the Transformation. It also includes a survey at the end that allows you to judge where your organization currently falls on the "control vs. freedom" spectrum.
Overall the book is a fast read with situations you'll recognize; approaches from well-known experts woven into the storyline that provide some good management theory education on their own; very interesting thoughts about how to change our approaches to motivating people to their best performance; and guidelines for going about making such changes in our organizations.

Chapter Map

Introduction: The Journey Continues

  1. The Control Versus Freedom Dilemma
  2. Do Incentives Motivate?
  3. Corporate Culture and the Bottom Line
  4. Experiments in Control-Based Thinking
  5. Fear, Human Nature, and the Need to Control
  6. Individual Freedom, Personal Responsibility, and Faith in People
  7. The Transformation of 'National Stores'
  8. Creating the Right Conditions-Shared Values-Principles for Personal Interaction and Consensus Building-Guidelines for Group Interaction
  9. Creating the Right Conditions-Responsibility Taking-Keys to Becoming Personally Responsible
  10. Spreading the Freedom-Based Philosophy
  11. Leading the Transformation-Visionary Leaders
  12. Individual Freedom-Owning Your Job
  13. Personal Responsibility-Owning the Systems
  14. Faith in People-Finding Great People
Epilogue



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