The Test of True Accountability (Updated for 2023)

By Patrick Thean

4 tips to go from theoretical accountability to true and practical accountability.png

dateWed, Dec 21, 2022 @ 11:45 AM

This happens all the time. You are holding someone accountable to get something done. Yet you find yourself checking in and chasing for an update on what is going on. Constantly. And if you do not remind them to report the current status to you, they continue to mosey on and forget about reporting in. So frustrating! But they are supposed to be truly accountable, right? So why are you chasing them around as though you are the one that is really accountable?

Wait… because you are. If you are chasing someone constantly for status updates, then you are actually the one that is truly accountable. Gut check time. Is this happening to you right now? Are you chasing someone to People__Processget things done that they are supposedly accountable for?

I learned an important lesson on team and personal accountability from my first manager at Oracle Corporation. I was with the consulting group in the late 1980s. We designed and developed custom business systems for our clients. Our manager needed us to update our resumes every quarter. This was important as it provided him with the latest and most up to date information on each consultant. This was key to providing the right expertise and experience in order to win competitive bids. We all knew it was important. We all agreed to get our resumes done every quarter. But Jack (I use Jack to protect the true identities of both friends and enemies) had to chase us every quarter to get our resumes done on time. We all cared, but few of us got it done. Finally Jack decided to base our quarterly performance bonus solely on whether we updated our resumes. This represented 10% of our salaries. That quarter, 100% of the consultants got their resumes done on time. Gee… I wonder why.

The Accountability Test:

Here’s the key lesson. While we all cared, Jack felt the most pain when we did not get our resumes done. Jack would remind us every month that it was important to get our resumes updated. We would agree. Jack would share with us how it hurts our department by not having the latest resumes available to sales. We would all agree. But the pain was really Jack’s, and not ours. While we all agreed that we were accountable, we did not feel the impact of any consequences if we did not get our resumes done. It hurt our team’s overall performance, and we all wanted our team to win. Yet while we had the right intentions and agreements, we still did not get this done. Jack cared more about our resumes getting updated than we did. Until Jack found a way to make us care. Until we felt the direct pain of not getting our resumes done. When he transferred real consequences to us (not getting 10% of our salary) we suddenly cared more than Jack. We got accountable. And we got our resumes done. That was when we went from theoretical accountability to true and actual accountability. If you are a manager, and you care more about the job getting done than your team member who is supposed to be accountable, then you still own it. And you are still the one that is practicing true accountability, not your team member. True accountability happens when your team member owns it and feels the pain and consequences of the job not getting done.

The Accountability Check:

If this story about Jack resonates with you, here are some tips to go from theoretical accountability to true and practical accountability:

  1. Identify. Identify the consequences of not getting the job done. Identify who feels the pain when this job is not done right.
  2. Ownership. Make sure that the person accountable for the job truly owns it. Find a way to transfer the consequences and pain of failure to the person who is supposed to be accountable. This is ownership.
  3. Educate. Make sure your team member understands how he or she is personally affected by not getting the job done on time.
  4. Rhythm of updates. Make sure your team member reports status to you on a consistent and regular basis. You should not have to chase them for updates.

Take the time to help your teammates with true and practical accountability. This will help everyone focus on the right things to get done and stop wasting time chasing after each other to get things done. 

More DO, less CHASE.




Want more information on Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:

The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams leadership development program to improve team performance.

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment to see how your team stacks up.

Team Accountability Begins with Personal Accountability

How top CEOs Close the Strategy Execution Gap

Building Team Accountability: Job Scorecards

10 Signs of an Accountable Culture [Infographic]

Growing Team Accountability in Your Organization

Quick Tips for Building Accountability

5 Steps to Having an Accountability Discussion [Video]

Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.

Patrick Thean


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images