I have been spending some time lately researching how to help our strategic planning clients continue to improve the completion rates on the projects they set out to accomplish. One of my threads of research had me looking more closely at the distinctions between accountability and responsibility.
Depending on which website you look through or book you read, the distinctions between these two terms will vary from altogether interchangeable to quite different. Even on our website, Bill Dann wrote in a previous newsletter: “To be accountable is to be “liable; called to account; answerable”. A synonym is ‘responsible’.” But as I dug deeper, I found value in making a distinction as you apply the terms to yourself, your leadership team and your staff.
To improve the completion rate on your projects, ask for accountability, not responsibility, and define the terms this way:
- Accountability is being answerable for a result
- Responsibility is being answerable for a completion
I found a great example that explains the distinction more clearly as I dug through the internet. A responsible sales person will say “I have to make 75 cold calls this month.” And if they truly are responsible, they will do just that. The accountable sales person will say “I have to close 100K in sales this month.” See the distinction? The responsible fellow may indeed make 100 calls, perhaps even more. He may have $100K in sales, may have $0, but that was not his job as he saw it. He was responsible only to make the calls. The accountable fellow may make 50 calls, may make 150, may make 10. He is accountable for a result, $100,000 in sales. And he works until the result is accomplished.
Okay, yes, you can switch the words around. Your salesperson could say he is responsible for $100K in sales. To that degree it is a matter of semantics. The important point is to get the distinction between a completion of a task and the result of it. Which, of course, brought me back to my original question of improving “completion rates” on strategic plans. At the end of my research, that terminology needed a fresh perspective as well.
To be accountable means that your team is not only completing a strategic project, but is assessing the impact of the project. If the project is not accomplishing the intended result, an accountable team is able to make necessary revisions so that the goal of the project is achieved. Regardless of the terms you choose, to get your team accountable for results of tasks and not just completions of tasks is to get them, and yourself, to the next step in reaching your organization’s vision and goals.