Accountability in Every Action

December 15, 2020 Jamie Notter

Part 5 of an 11-part blog series on the Rockefeller Habits for associations.

Accountability has become something of a buzzword in the corporate world, especially lately. As more organizations and associations are being forced into virtual working arrangements, accountability is the issue that many leaders are most concerned about. 

  • How do you ensure that your team members are on task? 
  • Are they using their time effectively? 
  • Do they know their responsibilities and their place in the hierarchy of your organization? 

Sure, if you have a team of two, accountability is easy to suss out and track. But as you expand into larger teams and multiple divisions do you even really know the ‘who does what’ of your accountability structure? 

By clearing up this confusion and having a better understanding of what is behind the language of accountability, your teams will be aligned with the flow of your processes and find a balance in their roles.

Defining Workplace Accountability

Organizational accountability often lumps names and priorities together with hopes that the finer details will work themselves out along the way. Unfortunately, as your organization grows with more and more employees, you are also adopting their individual understandings of what accountability in the workplace looks like and things will be missed along the way. 

As you better define accountability in your organization and align your team with the exact language of what accountability is, everyone has a common language for knowing what they do and how to achieve their goals. 

Accountability is:

  • A clear understanding of your role and responsibilities in achieving a larger goal
  • Taking initiative
  • Ownership and communication of results and outcomes

Accountability is not:

  • Pairing a name with a priority and a due date
  • Negative feedback on what someone did wrong, late, or is at fault of
  • Assigning a team to a project

Putting an Accountability Plan Into Action

Once you have aligned your team on the definition of accountability, it’s time to make some changes to ensure that your daily, monthly, and quarterly tasks are aligned as well. 

See also  Real Accountability Requires Better Metrics

Reflect. Look back at your team’s strategic plan for the quarter and the priorities you have identified for the next 90 days. Take time to consider and record who is accountable for each component of completing these priorities. 

Organize. Break down the priorities and develop a spreadsheet to show who is accountable. A good way to do this is to split it into three columns: who, what, and when. Then, identify exactly who is responsible for each component and if there are any crossovers or gaps in the names. 

Define and Assign. Make sure that there is a definition and timeline to the components as well. Remember, you can’t assume everyone has the same understanding until you clearly define it to the entire team. For example:

Less Effective Assignment: Megan will draft the Big Event Announcement.

More Effective Assignment: Megan will draft the Big Event Announcement email text by December 1st. John will review and revise the Big Event Announcement before approving it to go out to members on December 4th. 

Collaborate. To keep everyone on the same page, share this Who-What-When (WWW) sheet with all of your employees. This will give a greater view of where each player falls in the organization’s priorities for the quarter. It will also clarify who might be the best to answer questions or collaborate on related tasks. This same format can be used when taking minutes during a meeting and then sent out as an update to the team. 

Mind the Accountability Gap

Of course, creating this kind of accountability upgrade in your organization is just the start. Following through and maintaining consistent communication is key to making sure that your accountability structure is working. 

In a recent survey of over 792 professionals, VitalSmarts projected that many organizations are currently facing a very expensive “accountability gap”—the lag time between when an issue or question arises and when it is discussed or moderated—that can cost between $5,000 and $25,000 each time the gap lasts more than three days. The research also found that: 

  • 52% of employees won’t talk about their peers’ bad performance markers, like improper shortcuts, poor attention to detail, and incomplete work.
  • 47% hesitate to share suggestions for improvement because they’re afraid of stepping on others’ toes. 
  • 49% take a week or longer to express concerns about policy changes that are having unintended negative consequences. 
  • 55% will not take initiative to speak out when they believe someone (or a group) has made a bad strategic choice.
See also  Real Accountability Requires Better Metrics

The costs of this lack of communication and transparency can be incredibly high. The bottom line is that, despite good alignment, if there is no safety and transparency, accountability measures can only go so far to strengthen your organization. When those elements are also in place, you can foster better relationships amongst your team, support innovation, and engage with and keep the best talent. 

Mastering Accountability Means Starting Now

Accountability plays a big role in the momentum of your organization’s performance. In his book Mastering The Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish described the impact accountability has on achieving a shared vision through this phrase: “The right people, doing the right things, right.” At the end of the day, the rapid growth of your organization comes down to not only your processes, but your people’s understanding of where they fall in that plan and their security knowing that accountability is a shared goal that everyone believes in. 

To learn more about how to master accountability in your organization, take our free Rockefeller Habits course through PROPEL+ and find out how to make your organization stronger through small changes you make today.

Photo by Possessed Photography


Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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