Accountability: a situation where an individual can be called to account for his/her actions by another individual or body authorized both to do so and to give recognition to the individual for those actions (Jaques Requisite Organization 1998)

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Organizations that lack an understanding and sense of accountability, make employees feel like they are being asked to swim world record times in a pool of  Jello. Everyone is trying really hard … and the system-of-work is forcing them to push harder and gain little progress.

This starts with confusion over what it means to be a Manager.

You are employed and paid for your efforts using your talents to complete certain work. You keep your job because you have proven your effectiveness to complete what is expected under the conditions of your work.

In management roles, people are employed and held accountable in two ways:
  1. Their own effectiveness in completing work;
  2. The outputs of those they manager.

Manager: a person who is held accountable for the outputs of others, for sustaining a team capable of producing those outputs, and for giving effective leadership to that team. (Jaques 1998)

Think about your organization…

People have comfort stating who they report “to” and who they are accountable “to” – I report to my direct manager and I’m accountable to her for completing these forms on time.”

The discomfort lies in management, whose outputs/work you may be held accountable “for”, or who is accountable “for” their own outputs – “As a manager I am accountable for the teams proper completion of the forms.”

Only one person can be held accountable for your output – your immediate manager – that is Accountability.

I cannot think of a single thing that crushes enthusiasm, desire to do great work, creativity, innovation, productivity and teamwork, faster and longer term, than having to be managed by someone who is not your real manager and who lacks the competence and capability of offering any value to your work.

Think of a time and how you felt when you were subjected to a “boss” who was not your real manager and was unable to add any value to your work, solve any problems you presented, and just didn’t have a clue to how your work gets done or set the proper context of your tasks to be completed.

How did you feel about having that manager assess your performance and personal effectiveness?

Accountability is held by the person who is accountable for your outputs, this generally is your direct manager. All you can be expected to-do is your best work…You are accountable for doing your best work. Your manager is accountable for the work you produce.

A manager must be able to add value to the work of the team.

This concept will clear up accountability and authority issues within the organization. If you know and accept that ultimately your manager is accountable for the output of the project and your work…then you can work cooperatively to accomplish the best work you can. Also, your manager will want to add value to your work and (if competent) will leave you alone to do your work.