Abstract：Accountability emphasizes that actors should be answerable to audiences for their decisions and behaviors, and also implies the related rewards or sanctions. Although studies since the 1970s have advanced our understanding of accountability in organization management, there is still a lack of comprehensive review of the theoretical and empirical work done on it.
Concerning the connotation of accountability, the essentials of its definition have changed over the decades, ranging from external constraint to internal constraint and perceptual constraint. Nascent research views accountability as a kind of external constraint and formal organizational system, which can affect individual cognition and decision-making. Subsequently, studies emphasize the internal requirement derived from individuals themselves and put forward the concept of self-accountability. Inconsistent research findings have gradually put individual subjective perceptions of the accountability into focus, which gives rise to the concept of felt accountability. Corresponding to the above changes, early studies mainly rely on experimental manipulation of observation or evaluation from others to reflect the institutional environment of accountability. At present, relevant measures based on individual perceptions are gradually developed, which further promote studies outside the laboratory.
Research on accountability is largely based on the following three perspectives. The first is the decision-making perspective, which originated in the 1970s and is mainly based on the social contingency model of accountability. This perspective posits that accountability is a fundamental feature of all decision-making environments, while individuals are “politicians” who always seek status and approval from audiences. Therefore, accountability can influence actors’ information processing and integrative complexity, and eventually their coping strategies with accountability. The second is the role perspective, which originated in the 1990s and is based on the accountability pyramid model and role theory. This perspective regards accountability as a process in which actors and audiences interact on role expectations and responsibilities. Existing studies mainly analyze the impacts of accountability on role behaviors and human resource management practices. The third is the perception perspective, which appeared in the late 1990s. This perspective is based on the phenomenological view, stressing that the key to controlling individual behaviors lies in their subjective perceptions of the accountability rather than the accountability itself. Accordingly, this perspective promotes several multi-level and cross-level studies, becoming one of the mainstreams of current accountability studies.
Further research can make progress in the following directions: to explore different influence mechanisms of accountability, to promote more dynamic, multi-level and cross-level analyses, to conduct accountability studies in specific contexts, as well as to discuss new challenges of organizational accountability in the digital era and the coping strategies. Thus, it can be more possible to let accountability play a fundamental supporting role in organization management practices.
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