felt accountability

It kind of sounds like a sewing term doesn’t it? I just ran across this term at Bob Sutton’s website, by way of BoingBoing. Mr. Sutton was blogging about his friend’s daughter who flew alone and was “misplaced” by United. They lost the 10 year old.

But what interests bureauphile readers is not the lost of a kid, but the concept in organizations, as Mr. Sutton puts it, of felt accountability.

“We are arguing that a key difference between good and bad organizations is that, in the good ones, most everyone feels obligated and presses everyone else to do what is in their customer’s and organization’s best interests. I feel it as a customer at my local Trader Joe’s, on JetBlue and Virgin America, and In-N-Out Burger, to give a few diverse examples.”

How does this play out in government organizations? Does the government worker feel the need to do what is right for the “customer,” aka citizen they are helping, or are they just doing their job?

I will say this again, but I honestly never met a government worker who was not trying to do a good job. But there are people who have RIPed as it is called: retired in place. They go to work, they go home, they wait to retire. These are your unreliable coworkers. These are the people you no longer ask to participate in planning office birthday parties or holiday gift exchanges.

What is different about government workers versus other organizations is that government cannot just fire these workers. So they languish. But it is pretty clear from the data that firing people has very negative effects on moral, even if everyone knows that person is not a good coworker.

I will be interested to read Mr. Sutton’s book on this issue and find out how they feel about it.


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