The Accountability Myth

Early in my career, I spent a lot of time collecting all the emails I had sent or received. I would have backups of 1000’s of emails lying around on servers, encrypted with compression passwords. Occasionally, I would perform a massive search on these GB’s of data to uncover a few emails discussing a topic, which had recently resurfaced. In many of these cases, the true purpose of finding one of these emails was to prove my rightness in a disagreement or occasionally show my innocence in some controversial situation (i.e. CYA – Cover Your Behind).

Nowadays, this all seems silly, and here’s why. First, if you are thinking you need to CYA something, there’s a good chance the decision should be reconsidered or handled in a different way. In other words, if your gut is not feeling good about the course of action being taken, those actions need to be changed. This sounds easy to say but often much harder to implement due to politics or other confounding aspects of the situation. Unfortunately, the career ladder is littered with those who just followed, but most of those at the top took the initiative to do something others weren’t willing to do.

Second, pulling out the old piece of ‘evidence’ to slam your work nemesis rarely gains anything but a short pride swell and a couple of enemies. For instance, pulling out the email that says ‘I said this was a bad idea’ is not much more than documentation of your self-incrimination. If it was such a bad idea the time, a simple email documenting a stance isn’t a worthwhile method of exoneration. Other options would have included escalation to a higher authority or complete removal of oneself from the process. In this case, pulling out the old CYA email has just shown a desire to track all disagreements with your peers as well as an inability to take a stand. In the end, neither of these will create healthy business relationships nor help with career progression.

2 thoughts on “The Accountability Myth

  1. Sometimes, to be realistic and constructive, I go along with decision with which I do not agree. In such cases, my favorite course of action is to:

    1. State my objection and the reasons for it.
    2. State that I don’t want to stand in the way of progress, so I am willing to go along with a consensus decision.
    3. In a noncontrontational manner, request that the stakeholders and decision-makers review their decision at a future date to learn from it.
    4. Have the lead decision-maker set an Outlook appointment for this evaluation date.


  2. Roger, thanks for the additional suggestions. I really like the idea of planning a future retrospection meeting as a way to deal with this situation in constructive manner. I’ll be looking for a time to test this idea in the near future. 🙂

    Just to clarify, I wasn’t proposing complete rejection when one’s opinions do not match the consensus, and offering the retrospection meeting is definitely another acceptable course of action. While many options exist when we are placed in a situation where we don’t agree, simply sending a CYA email is the one that’s a waste of time, IMHO.

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