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Strategic Discipline Blog

The Leadership Difference - Responsibility and Accountability

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Mar 24, 2014

responsibility resized 600It’s appropriate to discuss responsibility and accountability immediately after the first week of the NCAA tournament.  The most recent report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 2014 report indicates employers "stand to lose at least $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour during the first week of the tournament."

Responsibility and Accountability are two different things.  Many people are probably responsible for reaching a certain goal, creating a product, or completing a project.  There never should more than one person who is accountable.  This doesn’t mean he/she does everything, or needs to be the smartest or most senior.  He or she is the person to give the activity a voice – to care that something is happening relative to the specific deliverable.  Often I remind my customers, “If everyone is accountable, then no one is!”

One of the key Gazelles Growth tools we work with clients on is a People chart.  It requires you to identify the key roles/positions in your company.  This can vary with any business, and we provide a list of most commonly used position and titles.  By no means is it all inclusive.  You should customize it to fit your business.  Next we ask you to put the name of who occupies (or is accountable) for that position.  Finally we ask you to identify the key measures for that position.  We intentionally specify these as leading indicators since forecasting is one of the two most important characteristics of leaders.

In most companies the number of names that are captured in the accountability or name entry are often surprising.  Many times there are several names, sometimes it’s, “oh we all do that!” (Case and point for this most often is customer satisfaction).  Sometimes there’s no one occupying an important position in the company.  That’s alarming, and not surprisingly and area to occupy some urgency to fill. 

The point of this exercise is to make sure someone is accountable.  The same is true for the exercise we do for People: Organizational Processes or Work Process Flow Charts.  First you identify the 4-8 processes that drive your business.  They you assign specific accountability for each process.  Finally you identify the key performance indicators for each process again focusing on leading indicators which predict outcomes. 

The point of these tools is to expressly identify those accountable for key performance results in your business.

Does that provide an answer to who's accountable and who is responsible?

As Vice President of Sales you are accountable for sales performance in your business.  Your sales people are responsible for their specific performance and achieving their results.  Doesn’t it mean they too are accountable?  Of course it does. 

Sometimes you make a commitment to doing something before you know exactly what you’re getting into.  That situation occurred when I decided to write this blog.  Suddenly I discovered there is a lot more to this accountability – responsibility thing than I thought.  Even the dictionary makes it challenging.  Here are the definitions for accountability and responsibility:

  • Accountability: 1. responsible to someone or for some action; answerable.  Synonyms for accountability include: liability, answerability, blameworthiness.
  • Responsibility: 1. the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one's power, control, or management.
  • an instance of being responsible: The responsibility for this mess is yours!
  • 3.a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible:  Synonyms 1. Answerability, accountability.

The point of this blog is business related, and more importantly leadership based.  A project management team may have everyone responsible for performing their jobs and completing task.  Each individual may be accountable for producing a specific outcome to help the team complete the project on time and budget.   Yet the project leader is the person ultimately responsible and therefore specifically accountable for the outcome. 

You can share accountability and responsibly, but in business there needs to be one person who is ultimately accountable for the outcome or the business will certainly be unable to achieve its objectives.  If you have an opinion or insight on this please leave a comment.  I’d be most interested in hearing additional thoughts and input on this sticky definition.

This past week one of my customers viewed the educational video on Multipliers (See Offer in right hand column of this blog).  Liz Wiseman discussed the new Economic Reality.  More businesses are deciding to do more with less.  How do you get more production without increasing your human capital?  You get your managers to get more from their people.  It’s the concept of Multipliers.  If you want to achieve more with less you don’t want to miss my next blog on the lessons from the Multipliers video.  

Topics: Accountability, Work Process Flow Charts, People, leadership, reponsibility

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Doug Wick, President

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

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