by Chris Edmonds |
Responsibility and accountability are different concepts -- different in theory and in practice.

When looking at performance expectations and values standards, responsibility is personal. It lies with individuals -- individual leaders and individual team members. And responsible individuals apply their skills and commitment to deliver agreed-upon results -- on time, on budget, and exceeding quality requirements. In these organizations, individuals also embrace their responsibility to meet goal standards while demonstrating their company's espoused values.

In many organizations, though, performance expectations are not consistently met by every individual, be they leader or team member.

There are many contributing factors to missed performance standards -- overwhelming workload, poor skills for new expectations, lousy systems, competing priorities, team conflicts, lousy bosses, etc. Any of these can erode one's ability to meet performance standards.

Likewise, in many organizations, values expectations are not formalized and there are no explicit expectations set for one's work environment. The only things that are measured, monitored, and rewarded are results. That encourages players to get the results any way they can.

Have you ever attended a company awards banquet, and the highest "quota buster" salesperson is asked to come to the podium to accept his or her award? And, it takes that person awhile to make their way to the podium because of all the body bags they're dragging?

That's a "win at all costs, no values to worry about here" work environment. And, we've all seen these environments.

In organizations that do have formalized values and behaviors, sometimes those values standards are not consistently met by every individual, be they leader or team member. 

If values and behaviors are formalized but not reinforced -- i.e. there's no values accountability -- players will do what they've always done: get the results in any way possible.

How Does a Leader Create Accountability?

The fact remains that in some organizations -- high-performing, values-aligned organizations -- many more performance commitments are made than missed. Despite experiencing some of the same conditions and temptations that trip up lesser organizations, those best-practice companies consistently meet performance expectations and values standards. Every day.

Is this success entirely driven by personal responsibility? Certainly individual responsibility does contribute -- but it's not the only factor that drives consistent success.

Organizational accountability closes any gaps that occur when individual responsibility falls short of agreed-to performance and values standards. Leaders are responsible for clarifying their team's purpose, values, strategy, and goals. They are, therefore, responsible to ensure that every commitment made -- for performance and for values -- is met, day in and day out.

The only way leaders can ensure promises are kept is to follow up and check in with team members regularly to see if progress is on track and to see if the organization's values and behaviors are being demonstrated by each team member.

If progress is being made according to plan and according to the team's values and behaviors, the leader can praise and encourage, and move on to another topic -- or move on to conversations with another team member.

If, however, progress is not on track or if values are not consistently demonstrated, the leader must be consistent in monitoring activity, addressing gaps, and coaching team members back to standard.

If personal responsibility doesn't deliver promised results using the organization's values and behaviors, the leader must engage in accountability discussions to get folks back on track.

I hope I've made a strong case that personal responsibility and organizational accountability, together, ensure consistent performance and exceptional citizenship.

Adapted from the award-winning bestseller,The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees, and Transforming Your Workplace by Chris Edmonds and available through Amazon. Edmonds can be reached at