The Laws of Accountability

Accountability is a word that is thrown out very frequently these days and, maybe, correctly so.  However, I find that every persons version, or understanding of accountability is different.

Wikipedia compares it to responsiblity and lists several different types of accountability – talk about confusing.

Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility”

A Project Manager I know defines it as “I will try my best”

Take your pick or make one up of your own, but what is clear is that when two people are talking on this topic, they are probably talking about different things and different standards.  The best colloquial definition that I have heard is “having my neck on the line…”.  Even that is open to interpretation.  Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!!

In my opinion, accountability, in professional terms, is not a deliverable.  It is an approach, an attitude, a culture; which is imbued into individuals and organizations that deliver.  It is very difficult to create a “law” around this; but, I decided to give it a shot anyways.  Without further ado, and with due apologies to the Late Sir Isaac Asimov, here goes.

  1. An accountable person may not harm the objective, or through inaction, allow the objective to come to harm
  2. An accountable person must drive the solution, including tracking and resolution of all dependencies that exist in achieving the objective
  3. An accountable person must escalate issues out of their control before they impact the achievability of the objective

These laws can’t create culture by themselves, but they can definitely stop answers that we are all too familiar with.  Also, these laws will not make the person aware of their accountability, or bring them in alignment with the objectives – those are external actions that must happen before these laws become applicable.

But, these laws (or something along these lines), can clear the communication, set the expectation, create a benchmark, etc – something that we try to do for all important things in our professional lives.  And accountability is something I consider really important.

From the 9-to-whatevers, looking for comments on the laws – critiques, suggestions, improvements, etc.  Maybe we can all get on the same page – does anybody want to take the accountability for that?

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12 thoughts on “The Laws of Accountability

  1. You cant force somebody to be accountable, then it ruins the very essence of accountability. To me accountability is synonymous with responsibility. If a person is responsible enough towards what he is doing, he ll be accountable. If he isnt, then you can show him whatever rules you have or give him scares of stringent actions, he ll ensure he has a loophole to squeeze out through. The person just has to own up, you cant force him to own it. Theoretically you can, but I would advise you not to assume on time delivery/good quality by just thrusting accountability on him

  2. Satyakam – this is not about forcing anybody to be accountable at all. As mentioned, those are external actions. This is about setting expectations for what it means to be accountable – once you have already accepted it. Trying to get it to mean more than a word.

  3. The person who has accepted to take up the responsibility of being accountable, doesnt need to be set expectations to adhere to. He ll know what is expected of him. We need to set rules and laws for people who do not understand the essence of something

    • That is absolutely correct – and I would love for it to be that way. But, does that really bear out in your experience? It does not in mine. Accountability is given and agreed to without focus on what that means – resulting in some very interesting results and discussions later. Just because the term is common does not mean the understanding of the term is too. Refer my project manager above…

  4. Hi Avi – Nice post. As you rightly said, it is about an attitude. It is when you get the feeling that more than anyone else, you need to do something about a particular issues / situation. I think, when you do get that feeling then everything else flows from there. It is also about putting yourself ahead of what needs to be done for that particular issues / situation.

    • Thanks Jeevan. I agree with putting oneself ahead, and in the firing line, so as to speak. So, how should the laws be modified to represent this?

  5. Nice Post ! . Accountability is also strongly linked with Passion an individual has on the job/work , which drives him to take this as priority in his life and drive every force or energy him to make things happen . Without being asked for , things will get escalated and resolved by possible means . So it becomes very important to drive persons job/priority assigned to him as a strong interest area / passion or otherway around 🙂 .

  6. Interesting Post; my 2 cents, Accountability comes with Ownership (Single Ownership) & Authority to take Decision. Offcourse Passion, Attitude are must have for the success!!

  7. Dilip/Prem/Kapil – Thanks for the compliment guys.

    I agree that passion and organization culture have something to do with the level of individual accountability. Those are the conditions that we need to work on.

    This post is more about the individual and the definition of what accountability is. Do the above laws accurately reflect that? Do we need to change them? Are we willing to sign the contract based on these laws?

  8. Nice Post bhaiya… Although, I slightly disagree on one point,

    “In my opinion, accountability, in professional terms, is not a deliverable.”

    It is definitely a deliverable, its is the delivery of values, commitment, quality and on time that someone has entrusted on you.

    Being accountable also means that the task is ‘your baby’ and you need to do everything to protect, nurture and put the best foot fwd for its enablement..

    • Thanks Mitesh.

      As far as your disagreement goes, it is probably symantics. The delivery of values and the commitment shown is what I call an attitude or state of mind. It is not something that can be ticked off as “done” which is my takeaway for a deliverable.

      The last para is exactly what the Laws are meant to represent. Any suggestions on the wordings of the laws?

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