Accountability vs. Responsibility
Posted on 27th May 2022 at 10:56
Accountability is overused as a term and is about ‘owning and tracking’ and is different from responsibility – it is about tracking progress not about authority. Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team defined it as:
“The willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviours that might hurt the team”
So again it is about tracking and also about bringing things to the team's attention. It is also about raising concerns over behaviour of other team members – so you will again see the importance of the trust within the team – that acceptance that you can raise concerns without fear of repercussions.
Accountability is an interesting one. Some of us fear the idea of it, and perhaps feel that it might lead to conflicts and awkward conversations for us as the business owner. That should not be the case. Firstly, there is no more guaranteed way of losing good people from your business than having a culture where there is no accountability. Good people want to feel rewarded for their contribution and seeing others consistently underperform without consequence is a huge turn off. Secondly, it should not fall on your shoulders to enforce accountability. In a well-functioning team, the team members understand what should be happening and will ‘self-police’ out of line behaviours.
If you have instilled a strong values based culture then everyone knows the intent and the guidelines within which everyone operates – it shouldn’t fall to you to enforce them. Of course, if the trust is not there then this won’t happen or won’t happen in the right way. If you get it right then you will establish respect among the team who are held to the same standards and poor performers will feel the pressure to improve. You will also avoid the need for excessive performance management and corrective action.
Here's a fun story: There are 4 people named Anybody, Everybody, Somebody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done!!
The takeaway is that if we want our team to be truly productive, we must ensure that we are clear on roles and accountabilities. Anybody, Everybody, Somebody, and Nobody. Just to illustrate the point, we asked 80 owner-managers of businesses with more than £100k turnover to list their top 5 challenges in running their businesses – By far the greatest was getting their staff to do the right things consistently well – it is hard to get your staff working in the way that you would like them to. So we need to work at it.
The key things we want to ensure are that we have a culture of Individual Accountability and Joint Responsibility
We have the right people in the right roles with clear roles and accountabilities
Individuals are empowered to make decisions for their area of responsibility
Teams are focused on achieving collective results and we celebrate team success
Is it absolutely clear who is doing what? Individuals need to be accountable and hold each other to account but the only way this can happen is if everyone understands their own role and areas of accountability. Each component of activity should have people assigned as accountable.
The magic phrase here is ‘Individual Accountability and Joint Responsibility’. Someone needs to take ownership – otherwise we are in trouble. That is the individual accountability. But equally we need to pull together to maintain the values and the culture and toachieve the Vision of the business – so whilst someone owns a particular task for example, we are all responsible for helping to make sure they can complete it. If we spot they are having difficulties, we don’t turn our back saying ‘not my problem’, we look to see if we can help.
Words like Accountability, Responsibility and Authority are banded around and used interchangeably sometimes. Although it might seem a bit like semantics, we need to be clear on the differences if we are going to improve clarity in our teams.
For more on Accountability and Resposibility check out Kevin Brent's book The Entrepreneurial ScaleUp System
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