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Accountability matters

We have all been let down at some point or another - probably on multiple occasions - by someone not doing what they said they would. It started early in our childhood when perhaps a parent promised they would take us somewhere but didn't do so in the end. Or maybe it was the best friend who pledged to secrecy only to blab on the playground. And what about the Tooth-Fairy who didn't show up when expected? Since then, in school, at university, at work, in our personal lives, every time we encounter an unfulfilled promise, it conjures up feelings of being let down, distrust and even of being unworthy.

There are consequences when someone does not accept responsibility for their actions and/or doesn't fully commit to their word. It matters, therefore, to hold people accountable for what they say and do.

It starts with a shared set of values

If on a fundamental level the same values are not shared, it will be difficult to hold a person accountable for their words and actions. It's best to determine this at the onset of a relationship - whether personal or in business. Do both parties value direct communications? Can they trust each other? Can they both stomach an honest but difficult conversation? It's also a good idea to take cultural diversity into account. In some cultures, people say they will do things that they never intend to or do not have the capacity to do.

Often at a job interview, a candidate is quizzed about the company values only to find that these (or the mission statement) are little more than empty words put together for marketing purposes. In order to hold each other accountable, there is a need for an understanding of common values between the employer and employee. It must go both ways.

Empowering through trust

I think it's fair to say that without trust, any relationship will peter-out pretty quickly. Trust is essential to the above-mentioned shared values and should take centre stage in personal and business relations.

Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on how one perceives life lessons) I have had first-hand experience working with untrustworthy colleagues and teams. The lack of trust and the fact that they were not being held accountable for their actions left me depleted and totally disempowered. I could absolutely trust that those colleagues would refuse to be held responsible for their words and actions as they often demonstrated by finger-pointing, lying and denying any responsibility.

Those were by far the most soul-crushing jobs I've ever had.

I have also seen great team-players at work who establish a culture of empowerment through trust. They hold each other accountable in a loving way (with respect and compassion whilst keeping the focus on the goal).

Clear communications about accountability

Being your word is key to accountability. If you say you will do something, your word should be honoured, just as it is within a contract. But our society cannot take risks with spoken words and enforces accountability in legally binding written documents. That's why so many hours are poured into drawing up contracts between two parties so that they can clearly be held accountable for their actions and responsibilities on either side.

After the initial exchange of expectations on paper (or a handshake), accountability is an on-going process. This can be done through regular feed-back to establish if the person has indeed done what they had set out to do and if not, why? There's always a consequence associated with the incompletion of a task. But in most cases, when the person is clearly communicated to and held accountable for an error or an incomplete work, they can correct the wrong and/or finish the job.

Frequent and clear communications on accountability are key to guiding employees towards their goal within the organisation.


Ultimately, the intention behind accountability is to set a clear frame work around what duties each individual has and for them to be answerable for it. Clarity of accountability is one of the most powerful drivers for high performing individuals and teams, resulting in more productivity at both levels and of course, greater success for the organisation as a whole.

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