Responsibility, accountability and ownership

We like people who are responsible. It all sounds very grown up.

Someone who is responsible will get something done, because they are responsible and responsible is good.

The problem is, things don’t always get done, do they? That thing was needed, the responsible person was supposed to do it, but they didn’t. It’s their fault. They were responsible and they didn’t do that thing.

It’s all very neat. There was a problem, but we know what the cause was, so it is ok.

Except it’s not ok. The job still didn’t get done and blaming someone didn’t help, it just allowed others to absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming the person who was responsible.

Enter accountability.

I’ve been responsible for things and I’ve been made accountable for things and I didn’t really understand the point. It didn’t make me approach my work differently.

The thing about accountability is that it is not something for the individual to help them navigate the things for which they are responsible. Accountability is a lever for others to use to ensure that the responsible person is doing their damn job.

If you are part of a team and a member of the team is accountable for something, YOU have a duty to hold them accountable. It’s your job to make sure that they do the thing for which they are responsible. This is one of the key things about being part of a team. It’s not just about helping each other, it’s also about calling each other out.

When someone asks you to do something and you then pass that on to someone else, maybe even the person responsible, and then you forget about it, you are part of the problem. That person might not have done the thing needed to be done and the person who made the original request has been let down. And it’s your fault.

When you take ownership of a problem who are become a giant of a person. You become the unsung hero of the story. You that the request, you pass it on, you make sure it gets done and you relay the good news. No-one thanks you for it, but you can rest easy knowing that you have been part of the solution and have done the right thing. Believe me, over time you will reap the benefits, personally and professionally, it’s like compound interest.

Responsibility, accountability and ownership together are an amazing productivity cocktail — do these things and you will never be out of work. Act responsible, but ignore accountability and ownership and you just become part of the system and part of the problem.

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