February 2016

Accountable or Responsible?

What's the difference and why is it important?  The differentiation between the two is very apparent when people “drop the ball” or “miss the deadline” on an important project.   When you hear statements like - “No one told me,” or “I was waiting for your piece,” or “it’s not my fault,” or “it couldn’t be helped,” or the always-favorite - “it’s not my job!”, you can be sure there's an accountability issue.  

Many of my clients have gone to great lengths to create charts with detailed lines of project tasks and timelines to create clear roles of responsibility, assuming accountability will result. 

Unfortunately, that’s not enough. 

Defining responsibilities is definitely the first step, but engaging people to take personal accountability is what’s needed.  I’ve seen so many leaders try to solve this dilemma by repeating and re-defining responsibilities… only to discover that it doesn’t change how their teams think or how they perform the work.

Accountability and Ownership

When people take accountability for results, they take ownership for making sure nothing gets dropped, and frequently do even more to ensure great success.  Accountability carries a strong personal investment in the ownership of the outcomes.  When an employee feels a sense of ownership to the results, they are much more likely to achieve results that often exceed expectations.  It’s a logical concept that's easy to understand – but not so easy to bring about successfully. 

The leaders I am coaching exhibit a great degree of personal accountability and responsibility.  Their dilemma is infusing that same commitment within their teams.  They are unintentionally taking it all upon themselves, or micro managing the team - neither of which creates accountability.  The leaders become the only ones fully responsible and accountable, creating an endless cycle of frustration.

Ideas for Leaders

So what does work well?  How can a leader begin to build in a strong sense of urgency and ownership (accountability) to the work and the results?  Here are some simple steps that have helped my clients build accountability with their teams:

  • Clearly define what your expectations are.  And allow plenty of latitude around how the goals get met.  
  • Ask for possible solutions when problems arise.  Don’t be quick to solve the problems.  Let the teams create the options.  (And expect to feel some anxiety at first around this one if you’re currently the “go to” problem solver.)
  • Get out of the way when you see positive results.  You can always step in for guidance when and if needed along the way.
  • Listen, and ask good questions that focus on their thinking process, not just about the task or project details.  Ask how they approached a particular issue or problem.  Debrief the project by focusing on the process they used and how it might be enhanced or changed for future improvement.
  • Celebrate the successes along the way.  Let them know what you appreciate about their approach to the problems and the process to the results – in addition to the outcomes.

As my clients implement these steps, they are realizing better results, more engaged teams, and more time for their own strategic thinking and planning.  A win for all!

“Responsibility and accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have.”  - Pat Summitt, Former Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach

Are you achieving the results you want?
 
The best leaders make simple shifts or practical changes for big results.  I work closely with leaders to create practical solutions to achieve real success. Let me help you discover what's possible. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details.
Terri@TerriHughes.com

   
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