Your favorite thesaurus app may say that accountability and responsibility are synonymous. The two behaviors are not equal in their meaning, however, for organizations that wish to deliver programs, projects, or plans on time.

When accountability and responsibility are confused it results in chaos, unnecessary conflict, and inefficiencies at scale. Value is diminished. The employee experience is ruined.

As we’ve supported organizations in moving from deficient cross-functionality to thriving seamlessly, the following definitions have proven valuable in creating the clarity needed for the steady speed of achievement:

  • Accountability means a single colleague is ultimately the one who answers for the outcomes or failure/success of a defined effort. 
  • Responsibility means it is the duty or remit of each employee to maximize the collective capabilities of the organization for the purpose of ensuring the organization’s strategies or plans are achieved.

In short: Organizations win faster when colleagues demonstrate individual accountability with shared responsibility.

For example, you may be accountable for making certain the device your company is developing is engineered with excellence, while you’re responsible for ensuring the product delights customers at costs the organization has targeted.

P.S. An important point: As we say in our programs, it is of little concern if you have different definitions of accountability and responsibility. What matters most is that you operationalize your definitions.



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