“Nobody seems to be accountable around here!” complained the CEO. She was frustrated that team members were routinely falling short on their production goals. Her complaint revolved around sales activity, but similar frustration has been expressed by leaders all over the place with different functions the target of their ire. Who is truly accountable for getting things done? “And if they are not going to be accountable, why am I paying them?”

Clarification of terms

Some of the problem with accountability starts with confusion about definition of terms. Responsibility means that you have the job under your jurisdiction, but you might not be the one who will be doing the job. Accountability means that you are it, baby. You are the one who needs to move hands and feet to complete the task.


What happens in your business when an individual makes a commitment and then does not follow through? Does it really matter? Does the individual get three strikes before he or she is faced with consequences? Do you gauge the consequences based upon the severity of the shortfall, or based upon the frequency? When you hold people accountable, do you give them credit for a swing and a miss, or must they score at least a base hit for the effort to count in your book?

When there is no consequence for not being accountable, the leadership of the company is accountable for letting non-performers slide.  It’s possible that the business leadership has not yet decided that it will settle for nothing less than A and B performers. With accountability issues even on small items, it is also likely that the business is not hitting its overall goals. Lack of accountability adds up. It might even multiply.

Impact on the A performers

The performance of your business lies in the quality and productivity of your staff. You hire people with habits of thought that are congruent with the values of your business, and you train them in their roles. You provide complete and understandable performance expectations, and you provide timely feedback. Your A performers, those with high values alignment AND high productivity, secure the future of your business. They inspire trust in you and in their fellow team members because they hold themselves accountable for follow-through on their commitments.

Your A performers expect a lot of themselves, and they also expect something of you, the business owner or other leader. They expect you to hold everyone accountable for individual tasks and overall performance. Otherwise your A performers become frustrated and leave your business to find a workplace that is more aligned with their high standards. That is a loss you don’t want to have to take, and if it happens too often your business could be handicapped – not only by the loss of talent, but also by the cost of rehiring and retraining.

Tool for accountability

Gazelles coaches like Summit HRD use a “Who, What, When” tool during meetings to document the actions that are to arise as a result of the meetings. (Why else have a meeting if not to engender action, right?) This makes it clear Who is accountable to complete What task, and by When. Only ONE name goes with each task – remember, we are talking about accountability and not responsibility. If Sally’s name is on the list, it is Sally who is accountable to get it done, even though her boss Georgia is ultimately responsible for the function.