Accountability is about being held responsible for things that you do.
If you look the definition up online, it says ‘the fact or condition of being accountable’, which doesn’t really help!
If you then look up ‘accountable’ it says that’s when you’re required or expected to justify your actions or decisions. And it also mentions the word ’responsibility’.
But being accountable, and being responsible aren’t necessarily the same thing.
Being accountable means that you are responsible for something and that you’re are also ultimately answerable for whatever you do. And it’s something that somebody can be held to only after they’ve ‘done’ something. So they are held accountable for whatever it was that they did.
Being responsible can be something that you are in advance, during, and after without necessarily being accountable for the end result. That could be up to someone else.
So that’s the difference – that accountability is about having to justify actions or decisions after something has happened, whereas being responsible is something that you can just be in the moment.
To use a corporate example, a manager could be responsible for managing a budget but the Chief Executive is ultimately accountable to the board and shareholders for the result of that.
Why is Accountability Important?
If we take the above example in a work environment, having someone responsible doesn’t necessarily create the required results.
Someone takes responsibility for the project and tasks but may not be committed to the required outcome. And without some form of accountability, personally or via someone else, the required results may not happen, because ‘what does it matter’, maybe?
Another example of being held accountable might be in the case of a politician stating what they’re going to achieve and then being held accountable.
They may not be responsible for the actual actions being taken during the project but, after the ‘event’, they are then held accountable for whatever it was that they said that they were going to do. That may explain some of why politicians end up resigning after something happens even though they claim no knowledge of what’s happened (or maybe not)!
Accountability is valuable and necessary in the wider community but what about for you and people with whom you work?
If we think about the difference between responsibility and accountability then we can see it really is important.
Procrastination Through Lack of Accountability
SME owners, like people generally, can often be found procrastinating! And especially procrastinating on those really important tasks that drive the business forward.
It’s usually much easier to do the exciting, fun tasks or the mundane, easy tasks to the detriment of the ‘deep work’ that is really going to make a difference.
I think often that happens because we know we are responsible – after all nothing gets done without us, but we don’t always create accountability – what are the consequences if things don’t get done?
It’s really easy to lament that the results we’re getting ‘are what they are’ and to then launch into a whole shopping list of external ‘reasons’ why they haven’t ‘magically appeared’, whilst continuing to be ‘responsible’ for them but not actually ‘accountable’ for them.
So, being accountable to yourself within your business and your life, is just as important as thinking about being accountable to other people.
Understanding that the buck stops with you and that you, and no one else, is accountable for your results is vital.
Let’s think about a personal example.
You determine that you want to lose weight and you might start eating sensibly and exercising, and working towards achieving that goal.
You know you are responsible for what you do in this regard – after all, no one else is eating for you! You’ve not told anyone what you’re doing, so you know it’s not really going to matter whether you achieve it or not.
At least no one will know that you set out to do this and that you haven’t achieved it!
Clearly, you can have some self-accountability here by way of a written goal or a habit checklist, for example, and that may work for you, but for many people it won’t.
Unless you are very disciplined and focused you will find that self-accountability doesn’t work even if you understand how important it is in addition to taking responsibility.
Being Accountable to Others
Many people need to have accountability to other people, whether that be one person or group of people, otherwise they don’t achieve whatever it is they set out to do.
So imagine, for example, if you said to your family and friends that you’re going to lose weight and you’ve told them that you’ve got a goal, you tell them how much weight you’re going to lose, when you’re going to lose it by and how you’re going to do that.
Immediately, you have much more of an incentive for that to happen, because (if they are supportive family and friends!) you’ve got other people expecting it to happen as much as yourself.
A friend has done this to keep her accountable in her new healthy regime. She’s actually given her partner a sum of money to pay to a charity that she really, really doesn’t like, if she fails in her goal. So he’s holding her accountable to do what she said she would and the consequence for her, if she fails, is that the money will go to that charity that she doesn’t support!
How can you include accountability in your life and business?
Well, first, you can stay accountable to yourself, as we’ve already said.
You can write down your goals.
You may have heard of the Seinfeld effect, which is a story that may or may not be true but we’ll assume it is for the purposes of this article!
It was said that Jerry Seinfeld, when he was writing his jokes, decided to write one every day, and tick it off on a chart on the wall so that he had an unbroken stream of ticks to show that he’d done a little bit of work on his jokes every single day.
Once you’ve got that going, and you’ve made a good few ticks on your chart on the wall, it’s much harder to not do the work the next day, because you’re keeping that pattern – that streak – going.
You could use an app like Habitshare to similar effect, just without the wall chart!
So, you can create that accountability just for yourself, if you’re particularly self disciplined and somebody who, once you set your mind to do something, can get on and do that.
If you aren’t particularly self disciplined and need some external support then let your family and friends know your plans so that they can keep you accountable. Or maybe post something onto your social media to get your plans ‘out there’.
You may want to think about having an accountability partner. That’s somebody where you decide between you what you’re going to do over a period of time.
You can decide that you’re going to achieve something in an hour, or a day or a week or month or a year, whatever it might be. You can pick a time scale, agree whatever that goal is, share that with your accountability partner, and then arrange a regular check in so that you can see how you’re doing against your goal.
And you can be accountable to that person and they can be accountable to you.
You might find a business colleague who wants to achieve something and is looking for some accountability too or you might just set this up on an informal basis with a friend or family member.
You can also do this in a group through (usually) paid for coaching programmes and masterminds. That’s where a group of you get together, usually facilitated by the founder / leader of the group. You hold each other accountable through the process so that you achieve whatever it is you set out to achieve, as do all the other people in the group.
And again, you set up regular review opportunities, whether that be through calls or meeting face to face or through some sort of online way of recording the programme, so that everybody can see the progress that’s happening within the group and for each individual.
If you are interested in creating some accountability for yourself, check out my POWER to Live More CALM membership site. It’s built around the four elements of Community, Accountability, Learning and Materials and within the Accountability section there are various ways to create that accountability to suit you.
Whichever style of accountability you want, and need, is facilitated within the membership site.