It is said that responsibility is given, while accountability is taken. One can be given a responsibility, but one must then be held, by herself and others, accountable for the outcome or result of their action, and/or completion of that task or job. What I have found in working with many leaders is that they fail to break down responsibility and accountability enough for others. We hear many times, “We are responsible for this and this.” We hear about shared responsibility and accountability. What this does, though, is increase confusion around who is making the commitment and what that commitment actually means. If we are not specific about where responsibility resides, and if we don’t hold people accountable after the fact, we increase the risk of never getting on with execution. We create a strategy or plan but do not fully implement and realize the benefits of any sustainable changes. And further we fail to build our record of success and our credibility.
Calibrating responsibility and accountability is about getting to ‘the promise’; it is about people understanding their commitments and delivering on them. If something does start to go sideways, it is about those responsible taking action to bring it back into balance or informing others that they require something to change for them to contribute and stand in their commitment. It is about negotiating, and if necessary renegotiating commitments, early as opposed to late in order to sustain personal credibility.
How can leaders make sure their teams understand the differences between responsibility and accountability and put this understanding into action? How do they secure commitment to action and achieving real results?
- Have the conversation on what must be done and be specific about what success looks like in terms of time, cost, or quality. When must this be done? What will we see and hear? What happens when something goes sideways, a barrier comes up, our environment changes, or a better opportunity comes along?
- What are the consequences of failure? What are the consequences of success? Our world seems to be more concerned with punishing than it is with rejoicing; we need to balance the equation and focus on successes as well.
- Provide ongoing feedback. People need to be given feedback consistently throughout their tasks and projects so they know if they are on track, to allow them to recalibrate if things go wrong, and to celebrate small successes along the way and thank others for quickly bringing to their attention when things are beginning to go off course.
- Celebrate successes. Far more things succeed in business than fail, but we tend to pass those by. We don’t pause and look at what success is really like, nor do we take full advantage of the learning provided. Post mortems are completed, however most leaders fail to revisit the learning prior to embarking on another undertaking… To often, we just move on to the next task or project.
By understanding and fully stepping into our responsibility and being accountable, we can create more success and achieve greater levels of personal credibility. Rather than remain static and stuck, we can begin to act and implement strategy and achieve our vision.