Project Manager Boomer Consulting
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What is the Difference Between Accountability and Responsibility?

People often use the words accountability and responsibility interchangeably. But there is an important and fundamental difference between the two and it’s imperative that firm leaders understand the difference.

Jan 27th 2020
Project Manager Boomer Consulting
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Think about a time when an objective wasn’t achieved in your firm: a missed deadline, an unmet revenue goal, a lost client, a deliverable that went out the door with preventable errors in it. Mistakes happen; we’re all human. But that’s the time when we usually start hearing words like “responsible” and “accountable.”

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Part of the confusion in accountability vs. responsibility likely stems from the fact that dictionary definitions often fall short. Pull out your nearest dictionary, look up the two words, and you’ll often find that the definition of accountability is explained in terms of responsibility and vice versa.

What’s crucial to understand about responsibility is that responsibility can be shared and delegated, while accountability is personal – it’s a mindset.

Let’s say a firm is having trouble getting work out the door accurately and efficiently. Firm leaders believe they have a responsibility issue, so they take steps to increase responsibility in the firm. These efforts usually involve defining roles, updating job descriptions and putting processes in place that improve the quality and efficiency of their work.

All of these efforts are important, but without accountability, the firm will still have trouble reaching its goals.

The Power of Accountability

Clearly defined responsibility is essential, but accountability encourages people to go a step farther and leads to better results. The problem is you can’t give someone responsibility. They have to take it. They have to choose to go beyond what they’re responsible for.

In a firm culture that embraces a positive and empowering vision of accountability, people at all levels take ownership of the strategic results of the organization.

How to Increase Accountability in Your Firm

Many firms struggle to create a culture of accountability – one where people recognize they need to answer for results without shifting blame.

Here’s what you need to create that culture:

  • An overall strategic plan. This provides a roadmap for the firm and provides direction for individuals setting their own goals.
  • Individual Balanced Scorecards. Balanced Scorecards document and measure each employees’ goals around four key areas: client satisfaction, business process, financial and learning and growth. Individuals work through SMART goals each quarter which ultimately support the overall firm strategic plan and increase commitment towards firm goals.
  • Accountability reviews. Each 90-days, an accountability review documents the results of the previous quarter’s Balanced Scorecard. These are the basis for assessing performance – for both partners and staff.

Many firm leaders plan, set goals and assign responsibility to their employees. What’s usually missing is the partner accountability that comes from a formalized system that measures performance at the partner level.

A culture of accountability comes from the top of the firm. If partners aren’t willing to hold themselves accountable, employees simply go through the motions and won’t buy-in.

Another issue firms run into when establishing a culture of accountability is failing to measure what matters. If employees are meeting the goals that were outlined and agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter, it doesn’t matter how many hours they put in or when and where the work was performed. If employees truly aren’t working enough hours or are wasting excessive amounts of time, the results will speak for themselves.

Leaders must own everything. That is the price of leadership: you are responsible for failure and successes. When individuals, teams and organizations choose greater responsibility, you’ll see more ownership, more performance, more engagement and innovation.

Responsibility for those results can be given or received, but when people make a choice to be accountable for them, you’ll get better results every time.

The original article appeared in the Boomer Bulletin blog.

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