Accountability vs. Responsibility
One of the big challenges I hear from CEOs all the time is, “I can’t seem to find a way to hold my team accountable”. The leadership team has seemingly productive meetings where they define priorities and assign responsibilities, and then nothing gets done. Lack of accountability has a devastating impact on an organization.
First, lack of accountability breeds frustration throughout the organization as team members learn they can’t rely on each other. This has a dramatic impact on morale and trust within the organization, bringing productivity down and making it harder to recruit “A” players.
Second, and most importantly, lack of accountability leads to stagnation. As the frustration grows, people give up and stop making commitments. They say things like, “priorities are just changing too fast for me to make a commitment”, or “why should I care if I miss a deadline if no one is going to follow up anyway?”. This is a death knell for a growing organization.
There are many reasons for this challenge but the first is that most organizations don't really know the difference between accountability and responsibility. Here are some key distinctions.
If a person is responsible, it means they roll up their sleeves and get the job done. Responsibility can be one person or a group of people. It's perfectly accurate to say something like, “we're all responsible for customer service in this organization”.
Accountability is always and only one person. The person accountable owns the result but they’re not necessarily the person doing the work. While they can’t delegate their accountability away, they can absolutely delegate responsibility. The person accountable needs to ensure there’s a plan, and they need to ensure, the right measures are in place to gauge success or failure.