Accountability is a word that’s thrown around in business. Often associated with a single person — “Who’s accountable for this?”. “I hold you accountable…”

Yes, individuals are accountable, however, real accountability is the essence of getting the right things done. Getting the right things done requires more than 1 individual.

Accountability is the consistent delivery on promises and commitments. At work, those promises and commitments are made to/from other people, bosses, co-workers, customers or suppliers.

So there are at least two people involved in any form of work accountability — a requestor and a deliverer.

In my workshops, I often use the analogy of a relay race.

In a relay race each person may run their own race, however, the success of the team depends on the crucial handovers at each stage of the race.

Anyone who has trained in / run relay races knows that more practice goes into the baton handovers than any other part of the race.

As with accountability, at least two parties must agree on what accountability looks like:

The requestor

  • Clear definition of the requirement
  • What does success look like
  • Clarity on how important the work is
  • Knowledge of the deliverer — do they have the skills?
  • Appropriate check-ins (not micromanagement but appropriate to the skill of the deliverer and the task)

The deliverer

  • Ask questions to ensure clarity of the task
  • Negotiation of relative priorities to other work
  • Understand the potential risks
  • Plan the work accordingly
  • Know what doing looks like
  • Deliver the work

If you think back to any situation where something that should have been done and wasn’t it is likely that one of the above didn’t happen:

  • The ask wasn’t clear
  • The priority wasn’t clearly stated
  • The deliverer didn’t have the skills to complete the task
  • There were unplanned/unmitigated risks

Accountability is taken when the agreement is reached and this means that successful completion is more likely.

Also, good accountability is brain-friendly:

  • Increases certainty for both parties
  • Improves the autonomy of the deliverer
  • Builds a connection between both parties

Taking and consistently delivering on promises and commitments is a key element of building trustworthiness — answering the “can I count on you?” question.

Accountability is a critical behaviour which directly contributes to successful business outcomes.

Accountability is something that is created between people and that is what makes it a powerful tool. Who would would not want to be able to say

“You can count on me.”

Originally published at