The convention of your role creates obligations for your accountability.
It seems fairly clear. However, how accountability is applied often leads to lack of alignment. It happens when what is being delivered isn’t what was expected. Sometimes the one being held accountable expects to be judged based on effort instead of results or outcome. So, I think it is worth elaborating on the definition to improve the likelihood of alignment at the time of delivery.
Characteristics of accountability include:
- Own the commitment even before you act
- Take actions, and risks
- Replace task lists with deadlines on a calendar
- Create a credible plan that can logically deliver the expected outcome
- Change the plan if progress is not leading to the expected result
- Own the outcome; good or bad
- Face the brutal reality of the status rather than the most positive possible interpretation
- Police yourself, but expect to be evaluated
- You must be empowered to navigate through competing priorities
- Be willing to say “no” - you can’t do it all
While accountability is not about punishment, you should expect to be judged based on progress to a plan or delivery matching expectations. It’s not personal. It just is.
One of the most important facets of Merriam-Webster’s definition is that of obligation. Not only is it the essence of the idea of accountability, it also offers an opportunity. Consider cases where the nature of your position is such that you are inherently obligated to provide a product or service to others in your organization as standard operating procedure. It is the proactive peer that is aware that their counterparts reasonably expect, or are entitled by the convention of roles, and meets that expectation without any accountability discussions. Such a proactive approach, if employed by the entire leadership team, creates a cooperative, efficient and effective company culture.
The accountable leader understands that only achieving the expected result is acceptable. It means that you have to adapt and improvise. Wherever and whenever it becomes evident that the plan is not delivering on expectations you have to intervene, modify the plan, secure more resources, access different skill sets, pay for expediting or whatever it takes to secure the outcome. Whatever it takes. So, you have to balance when you need to “go deep” or when you need to “go wide”. Successfully balancing depth versus breadth requires appropriate immersion into the process or project that is expected to deliver the outcome. You have to appropriately delegate and hold team members accountable for their portion of the execution.
So, with all of that understood to be the foundation for the Merriam-Webster definition of accountability, I can accept “the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions”.