What’s YOUR Definition of Accountability?

February 9, 2016 by Stacey Barr

Go on: write down your own definition of what accountability is, before you read any further.

Does your definition of accountability involve any of the following ideas:

  • taking responsibility?
  • producing or delivering outcomes?
  • hitting targets?
  • being accountable for results?

accountability equals diagram

What I always find is that people aren’t really sure how to define accountability. If you need to use the word ‘accountable’ or ‘responsible’ when you define it, you’re not really defining it. And if you say that it’s about delivering some quantitative outcome, you shouldn’t wonder why people shy away from being held accountable.

Holding being accountable for quantitative results means that they will do whatever they can to get those quantitative results. You know as well as I do what that means:

  • choosing measures of what they are already good at (like activity measures)
  • choosing easy targets (lowering the bar)
  • manipulating the numbers to make the measures look good
  • having lots of excuses for why targets are missed (things outside their control)

None of this behaviour leads to what we really want from accountability: performance improvement. Performance cannot improve while ever people are sweeping the problems under the rug for fear of being dragged over the coals for ‘underperforming’.

With our current definitions of accountability, we’re ensuring we have lots of inaccurate good news. What we need for true performance improvement is accurate bad news.

So to truly improve performance, our definition of accountability has to change. It has to still be a challenge to encourage people to reach and stretch outside their comfort zones, but it cannot fill them with fear.

Here’s what I always recommend as the definition of accountability:

  1. routinely monitoring the important results
  2. validly interpreting their measures of those results
  3. initiating action, only ever when action is required

Read more about this definition here: //staceybarr.com/measure-up/what-is-a-kpi-owner-accountable-for/


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