I’ve just got back from some time with family and I feel like I’ve either been driving, eating or drinking! (not all at the same time!), so I thought I’d start the first in a new series of “Mike wrestled with this idea for a bit, so now he’s teaching you as that’s the best way for him to internalise the idea.”
And who knows, you may learn something to (or, I’m teaching you to suck eggs).
Accountability vs responsibility
It’s common for people to conflate these two terms or even mix them up, so here I am to help you not do those things.
When you’re accountable for something the buck, literally, stops with you. It’s unlikely that you’ll have shared accountability as you are the one who will “answer for” whatever it is you’re accountable to. (Also, shared accountability can lead to finger pointing).
You shoulder the burden of the work you are given, you are accountable for it. You can make others accountable, but only with their consent.
Being accountable means you have to “account for” or “give an account of” the thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to actually do the thing, but you’ll face the consequences of a bad outcome of the thing.
Being accountable usually happens after the thing.
We’re all responsible for picking up our rubbish, or washing up our coffee cups in the break room (or, your own kitchen). We’re responsible for answering emails promptly and acting professionally. We’re responsible for contributing to the successful running of the company by doing our work accurately and well. But we’re not accountable for the success of the company - that lies with the big cheeses.
If, on the other hand, you shirk your responsibilities and do a bad job of something, then you are accountable for the consequences of that behaviour.
Multiple people can be responsible for a task, or set of tasks, but they cannot be given a responsibility, it must be assumed. Someone most take responsibility for a thing (which your employees do when they sign a contract, or agree to abide by a code of conduct for example).
Being responsible usually happens during the thing.
A manager is accountable for their team in delivering a project. The manager is responsible for ensuring the team has the resources and tools they need to deliver the project.
A team member is responsible for doing their tasks as part of that project. When they do not do that, they are accountable for their behaviour.
A team member can take accountability for a particular piece of work being done. For example, if they choose to lead a working group and ensure they meet and deliver an agreed output.
📪 End Post
Was this useful? I found it useful to think and write about this to get my head around it, so you’ve all been a wonderful audience, thank you!
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