Increasing Accountability in Yourself and Others

Guest contributed by Linda O’Neill, VP of Strategic Services at Vigilant


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Almost every executive I talk with desires a more accountable organization. Many of them are running highly effective and profitable companies and it is their goal to keep the bar moving up and to the right.  There is room for improvement. In an accountable organization each employee understands his/her role and each employee can be counted on to do his/her job with no surprises. When a company’s culture embraces accountability, employees are self-motivated to contribute to the success of the organization.  It’s important to remember that accountability is voluntary – you can’t make employees (or anyone else) more accountable. There are, however, steps you can take to increase the likelihood your employees will choose to be accountable.

  1. Define it. It is important that everyone in your organization define accountability in the same way. Spend some time on this as a leadership team. Webster’s dictionary uses words like “answerable” and “explainable” to define accountability. To me, the most important element of accountability is the obligation to answer for our actions. It’s not just completing the actions.  It’s being responsible for the consequences of our actions in addition to completing them. It involves taking ownership of your job. There is no room for blaming others. What’s more important than the way I define accountability, however, is the way you define it for your organization. There is no right or wrong answer.
  2. Communicate it. Communicate the company’s expectations around accountability – broadly, consistently and frequently. You will be the most successful when you communicate accountability in context with the company’s mission, values and goals. When each employee understands that the way his/her job is done affects the company’s performance, you will experience greater individual and collective accountability. Put more control in the hands of employees for how they meet the expectations of their job/role. Employees who feel responsibility will also more willingly embrace accountability.
  3. Reward it. Just as you spent time defining accountability, spend equal time understanding how you will measure and then reward it. As the company makes progress toward its goals, share the information broadly. “The Carrot Principle” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton is a great book to gather ideas about rewards. The authors stress that rewards must be deliberate. Create a system for yourself. You won’t just “remember” to reward employees. Tie the rewards to company goals and the employees’ role in meeting those goals. Communicate how the employees’ accountability (obligation to answer for actions) affected the goals.

Wanting more clarity around measuring accountability

It is important for every employee at every level in the organization to have a document articulating his/her accountabilities (similar to a S.M.A.R.T. goal document). I like calling this document simply “<Name> <Year> Accountabilities” (i.e., mine would be “Linda O’Neill’s 2017 Accountabilities”). Identify the categories important to your business, such as financial performance, customer service, team leadership and executive maturity. Clearly articulate the accountabilities in each area. Once you have a complete list of an employee’s accountabilities, define how you will measure success. For example, an employee may be accountable for bringing in $15 million in service billings for the fiscal year. The employee would record the results achieved at the end of the period.

Wanting greater accountability to self

Accountability comes from the inside out; it is a choice. Let me say that again: Accountability comes from the inside out; it is a choice. As a result, it makes sense that learning greater accountability to self enhances accountability on the job. Positive change begins with individuals changing themselves. You can translate the same strategies listed in the “wanting more accountability from others” to yourself. First, define what accountability means to you. Do you take an “owners” mentality to the commitments you make to yourself as well as the commitments you make to others? Next, spend some time noticing how your actions compare to your definition of accountability. You might want to write down every commitment you make to yourself or someone else for a week and then notice what supported or what got in the way of your accountability. What conclusions can you draw about you learned? What small change will you make to increase your satisfaction with your accountability to self? How will this enhance the way you model accountability for others?


Accountability means being doing what you said you would do, and being answerable for all of your actions –those that influence others and those that affect only you. When there is little accountability in an organization, stress levels tend to rise, communication is reduced, and territorialism is pervasive. When accountability is strong, employees are engaged, performance is high and company goals are met. What choice will you make to improve accountability both within your organization and within yourself today?

Disclaimer: Opinions and views of guest contributors are not necessarily those of the