Being responsible is not enough to make you a competent leader. To climb the corporate ladder, you must be accountable. In other words, you discontinue making excuses for work that goes undone, and control the temptation to point fingers when the work fails to meet expectations. The bottom line is that those with a “C” title understand that the buck stops with them.
Everyone can be Responsible
A job description makes you responsible for the work assigned to you. You are required to greet customers when they enter the store. You are informed that you should handle 10 accounts receivable transactions by Friday. As the HR Generalist, you are tasked with updating the sick leave policy. As an insurance salesperson, you have to make your 36 dials today. These are all situations in which you are responsible. In most cases, you are responsible for day-to-day activities that are largely in your comfort zone.
To be a good employee, you must be responsible. In other words, your director counts on you to do the work you were hired to do. However, climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder require more than responsibility.
Accountability is the Difference-Maker
How is accountability different from responsibility? Let’s assume that on December 15 a fire destroys a distribution center (DC) in which many of the company’s products are housed. Your business sells high-end speakers, but this DC is no longer operational, and sales are going through the roof because of a successful marketing campaign.
An employee practicing responsibility will ensure everyone is safe, and will contact the insurance company to file a claim. That is a good start, but that falls short of accountability.
Become the Owner of the Problem
Accountability means doing whatever possible to fill the orders. This is the busiest time of the year, and meeting expectations is paramount. Like the responsible employee, you care about employee safety and submitting the insurance claim, but you will do far more. You understand that taking ownership is the critical component to resolving the problem and meeting the orders in the queue.
Accountable means that you travel to the affected location. You want to know if any of the product is salvageable. If so, you will work with shipping and IT to fulfill the orders. You will also contact other distribution centers to determine if they have the product necessary to meet the demand. Throughout this time, you will keep the customer posted regarding the anticipated delivery date. The customer may not like what you have to say, but your transparency will buy you some time.
The responsible employee took action, and that effort should be applauded. However, the accountable employee knew that the company needed to fill the orders, and that meant finding a workaround.
In short, responsibility is a management function, while accountability is a leadership trait.