Five Key Aspects of Accountability in Business

Five Key Aspects of Accountability in Business | vcfo

This post is authored by Rainee Busby, a Certified EOS Implementer® and Franchisee with EOS Worldwide. Since 2015, she has implemented EOS® in over 70 organizations delivering 350+ full day sessions.

Five Key Aspects of Accountability in Your Business

Inflation issues and supply chain woes aren’t going away anytime soon. To manage effectively, minimize negative business impacts, and gain a competitive edge in a disruptive environment like the one we find ourselves in now, strategic clarity and a strong supportive plan are musts. But they alone are not enough. Achieving these aims also requires accountability, as even the best of plans will fall short in its absence.

Our experience in working with a wide range of businesses and leaders over the years has shown us that accountability is frequently misinterpreted, misapplied, or viewed differently from person to person. At its core, accountability in a business center on setting expectations and holding people to them. It’s a concept that seems simple on the surface, but one that businesses frequently struggle to get right. Below, we examine aspects of accountability that we commonly see crop up.

Instilling Individual Accountability

“I can’t get my people to be accountable” is one of the most common refrains we hear from owners, executives, and managers. The reality, however, is that people must first possess an underlying want and willingness to be held accountable. The good news is that most are amenable to accountability, but let’s be clear that it’s not for everyone. Ultimately, each individual must embrace accountability or face the fact, one way or another, that an organization that requires it isn’t the right one for them.

It’s important that this point not be interpreted to mean that issues with instilling accountability in the workplace rest solely on the shoulders of individual employees. All too often, employees work in an environment where what they are supposed to be accountable for is unclear, poorly communicated, or evolving without their awareness. Both the employee and the enterprise as a whole have important parts to play in promoting and demonstrating accountability (more on that below).

Building a Foundation of Accountability

A prerequisite for accountability is clearly articulating and communicating the company’s values, vision, core focus, and goals. This also includes setting universal expectations like punctuality or asking questions when uncertainty exists and then establishing and enforcing those practices to make them norms. Building a foundation of accountability also requires, as alluded to above, that everyone has a shared understanding of what accountability means. A helpful acronym for supporting alignment around accountability and clearing up confusion with related terms denoting levels of involvement is RACI, which stands for:

  • Responsible – The person or group assigned to perform a task. Every task should have at least one person (but sometimes more) designated as “responsible” for completing it.
  • Accountable – The person who assigns and inspects tasks within a project. Each task should only have one “accountable” person.
  • Consulted – A person or people that advise or deliver feedback on tasks being completed. This may occur at different stages of a project and is not something that’s needed for every task.
  • Informed – Informed individuals are those that just need to be kept in a project’s loop because of its relationship to other work being completed, for reporting purposes or related reasons.

Articulating Areas of Accountability

To echo a point from above, every task should have one, and only one person be identified as accountable for it. In too many cases, however, accountability is only naively or conveniently assumed or simply not identified in a manner that ensures mutual understanding and acceptance. That, in turn, means that no one is truly accountable for tasks where this occurs.

One tool that supports clarity in this area is The Accountability Chart™. Unlike org charts that typically visualize structure, titles, and departments, accountability charts denote expected outcomes and identify who to go regarding any particular function or project. It’s not a list of every single known task, but rather includes items such as Marketing Strategy or Retail Operations, a summarized list of included areas, and the person accountable.

Adopting an Accountability Chart or similar approach clears up any misunderstandings as to who has the ball across different areas of the organization.

Creating Accountability Consistency and Cadence

Another key aspect of accountability is putting a system and recurring pillars in place to support a shared approach and set of tools for how accountability is assessed and measured across the business. For example, EOS is a highly regarded and widely used business operating system that includes pillars such as:

  • Rocks – 90-day priorities for moving the business forward and executing its one-year plan.
  • Scorecards – Collection of leading indicators that improve predictability and prevent firefighting.
  • Level 10 Meeting™ Agendas – Agendas that focus on the top priorities related to business goals and the actions that will be taken to accomplish them.
  • Vision/Traction Organizer™– Strategy document that ensures alignment in how we communicate where we’re going, how we are going to get there.

Elements like those above become especially powerful when used consistently within the company’s operational cadence. Here, operational cadence refers to the right collection of weekly, quarterly, and annual meetings or forums designed to review statuses and barriers, support cross-functional collaboration and process compliance, drive documentation, encourage communication, and celebrate successes.

“Many people have heard me talk about the power of implementing EOS in vcfo and the credit I give it for helping us pivot so quickly when the pandemic hit and immediate action was required. Because we had adopted EOS in 2018 our team knew exactly what they were responsible and accountable for and focused closely on what needed to be done to move through the crisis in the most effective way possible. Adherence to the process has continued to power the company forward enabling us to execute as a team on many initiatives critical to our growth and success. I highly recommend all companies consider implementing an operating system like EOS.” – Ellen Wood, President & CEO, vcfo

Turning an Accountability Climate into an Accountability Culture

Climate within an organization is something that can change quickly and is sometimes short-lived. In contrast, establishing and evolving an organization’s culture takes time and has longer-lasting implications and impacts. While different yet closely related, both climate and culture start with and rely supremely on leadership.

For example, a leader can emphatically announce that “we’re going to place a greater emphasis on accountability in our business.” They begin to advance this aim by adopting measures like those described above and encouraging and helping others to get on board. This creates a shift in climate, but what happens next determines whether accountability will be woven into the fabric of the company’s culture or backslide into the comfort zone of “how it used to be.”

  • Do some leaders keep it up for a month or a few months but then begin to let things revert to previously established norms and practices until the emphasis on accountability is all but gone? Or…
  • Does leadership across the business actively embrace the emphasis on accountability, demonstrate desired behaviors, address shortcomings, and inspect what they expect – all without sacrificing energy and accepting a return to the old status quo?

Leaders hold powerful sway on whether a change in climate turns into a belief that leadership doesn’t mean what it says and isn’t invested in moving us forward, or whether they practice what they preach, value the workforce, and count on individuals to do their part for the success of the business.

The Accountability Struggle is Real

Leaders struggling to instill accountability across their business can take some solace in the fact that they are not alone. Author and transformational leader Anne Loehr found that 93% of employees do not fully understand what their organization is trying to accomplish so that they can align their individual goals accordingly. She also found that 84% of leaders describe themselves “as “trying but failing” or “avoiding” the advancement of accountability.

In a period of unprecedented challenges for businesses, waiting to address accountability until another day shouldn’t be an option. Leaders that instead see accountability as an opportunity and accept the challenge of embedding it across their business are setting a stage for long-term success.

Request a Free Consultation from a vcfo expert who can help you instill accountability in a proven and powerful way across your business. We’ve helped more than 6,000 businesses in our 27 years and would love to share how we can help.