In December 2021 we surveyed our clients and contacts, receiving 192 responses across a wide range of roles, industries, and European nationalities. Respondents commented on 7 simple statements. Some excerpts and the results of the survey are below. If you are interested to read the full whitepaper, you can download it here.
What is accountability?
Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”. Clearly there is an obligation for accountability in organisations via job descriptions, performance reviews, etc. However, today’s workplace with its demands for individual autonomy, remote working and complex project structures means that the ‘willingness’ to be accountable must be continually developed by leaders. Some effective, concrete ways of doing this are:
- making clear agreements
- empowering people to make own decisions
- providing feedback
- recognising achievements
- modelling accountability
Our experience shows us that leaders sometimes lack the full range of skills to do this. However, let’s first turn to the factors responsible for the gap in expectations and practice of accountability, by looking at the research we carried out.
Analysis of results
- Respondents answered positively to most statements, particularly recognition (Q.7) and empowerment (Q.3)
- Respondents’ impressions of effective delegation (Q.1), clarity of expectations (Q.2), and feedback giving (Q.4) were also significantly positive
- HOWEVER … when it came to managing accountability within and across teams (Q.5 and Q.6), respondents were divided, many disagreeing that managers hold team members accountable to the commitments they give each other.
There is salience in the results. There are positive impressions of managers’ abilities and willingness to hold individuals to account. However, Q.5 and Q.6 suggest managers may need to develop their skills at managing accountability between team members and teams.
Conclusions and recommendations
Our research suggests that while some leaders are very capable of demonstrating the elements that build accountability with individuals, they may struggle with building and displaying accountability between individuals and teams.
Leaders need to …
- develop accountability with and between individuals
- develop their team member’s skills to have courageous conversations and hold each other accountable
- hold the team, as a unit, accountable
- contribute to a culture of accountability within their management team
The process for developing accountability in Fig. 2 (not shown in this post) applies to all 4 of these challenges, but the actions required differ!
Ultimately, accountability is as much about ‘doing’ as ‘being’. It is the small, noticeable actions over time that build it, specifically:
- Being clear – delivering an unambiguous message about roles and responsibilities
- Being courageous – challenging individuals and teams to take responsibility… and taking responsibility ourselves
- Being empathetic – understanding individuals and relationships
Leaders need to invest in the steps, skills and behaviours that build accountability naturally. Our experience is that when we can break down big concepts into smaller, more practical elements, we can help people to take the everyday steps they need to achieve bigger goals.
Download the whitepaper
The answers to „How can accountability be developed in individual leaders and organisations?“ and „What are the skills and behaviours driving each element?“ are discussed in the full version. You can download it here.