The “Clear as Mud” Issue of Accountability

Posted December 13, 2012 by Marcy Twete in On the Ladder

There is a reason job descriptions exist. And whether you realize it or not, they’re not there to tell you what to do every day. If you really looked at your job description and structured your day 9 to 5 to include only the things in bullets on that piece of paper, you will inevitably fail at your job. It’s because job descriptions actually have nothing to do with jobs. What they do is structure accountability. But like jobs in their own right, the world of accountability, no matter how big or small your organization, is often incredibly muddy. Who is “accountable” for the project, for the task, for the dollars? And is being accountable different than being responsible? Does accountability beget authority or vice versa. All of these questions are the reason accountability is so….muddy.

Harvard Business Review writer Ron Ashkenas recently brought some light to the “clear as mud” issue of accountability in his article, “Why Accountability is So Muddled, and How to Un-Muddle It.” In his article, Ashkenas gives one of the most profound pieces of advice I’ve ever heard about being accountable and managing accountability within an organization. Here it is:

Appoint process champions. Especially for activities that cut across different parts of the company, process champions will have end-to-end responsibility for achieving the desired metrics. These are difficult roles to play since they often come without full authority for all of the resources, but they are a step in the direction of single accountability for dispersed activities.

When you think about these kinds of “process champions” think about the kids in school who were crossing guards or fire marshals. These are the minds of people in your organization who can be both leaders and inspire others to want to be led. By giving someone the responsibility the mind the processes of accountability, you’re beginning (slowly, I’ll admit) to eliminate questions and un-muddy the waters of accountability.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."