Why do some employees avoid taking responsibility?

One of the workplace conversations I have with business owners and/or managers is about; why is it that (some or many) people within the business don’t want to take responsibility for their actions. They appear to have successful lives on the “outside”, but at work seem to leave their adult decision making skills and ability to think and act responsibly at the door on the way in. When that staff member is approached about what went wrong or why something was not done, every excuse under the sun comes out and it’s always someone or something else that is responsible. Does this sound familiar?

Normally this is not an issue when things are going well, but when they are not, this lack of accountability becomes a problem. The reality is, people will not become accountable or take responsibility until they choose to, you can’t force them.

A model I like to use is the Personal Responsibility Model. I was introduced to the model by the personality profiling expert Keith Ayers both face to face and in his book : Engagement is not Enough, Elevate October 2008. This model looks at whether people operate as other-directed or self-directed and why this may occur.

Other-directed people believe they have no control over their lives and do what they are told by people in positions of authority, they say to themselves “I have to …”  Self-directed people believe they make their own decisions and have control over their own lives and say to themselves “I choose to …”

These beliefs people have lead to feelings and attitudes which then result in the behaviours they act out. Reflect for a moment, what kind of person are you. Are you driven by what you believe you “have to do” or what you “choose to do”? What impact could this have on your management/leadership style and how you interact with others? If you come from an authority based belief which drives strongly directive and micro-management style behaviours, consider that your staff likely feel they have no choice in what they do and when they do it. If you come from a responsibility based belief that what you and others do is about making choices, it is likely this will reflect in your staff feeling they do have choices about what they do because they feel empowered to do so.

Think back to when you were told you HAD to do something (other-directed). The Personal Responsibility Model says you either rebel and resist, or comply then feel resentful. Either way, this enables you to avoid responsibility due to believing you did not have a choice and then you may have felt like a victim and even looked for revenge.

Alternatively if you “CHOSE” to do something (self-directed) you were asked, you may have agreed or disagreed with the request, but were far more likely to accept the consequences of your actions, therefore being responsible and accountable for the results. If “that task” you did went wrong, you were more likely to have wanted to see what you could have done differently.

If you have a number of people in your workplace who seem other-directed and avoid being accountable for their actions, is there a way you could position what they need to do as being more of a choice, or at least give them more empowerment over what, when or how “that task” is to be done?

If the majority of your people seem self-directed, do more of what you are doing and consciously think of how you could encourage even more of it.

Be conscious of the culture you are creating.

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