August 26, 2015 Anil Saxena

The Twisted Definition Of Accountability

When did the term “accountability” take on a negative connotation? When did being “held accountable” become the new vocabulary for placing blame?
It seems like this definition has become tainted.  It’s as if accountability is something nobody wants anymore – and who would want to embrace accountability when it’s so often associated with mistakes, negligence, or outright devious behavior?

For many people, accountability is synonymous with suffering the consequences of unmet expectations. – Roger Connors

Accountability: The acceptance of responsibility and liability,
But, rooting the term in negativity is extremely counterproductive. If accepting responsibility means voluntarily putting your head on the chopping block, why would anyone want to step into a leadership role?

Apathy at work

This raises a very important issue, and offers a logical explanation for workplace complacency, for the desire of many employees to remain in neutral positions. No one wants to be singled out for failure.
So now what?
The reality of accountability is not a mechanism for placing blame, but rather a privilege of influence! If you are “accountable,” it means the ball is in your court – you determine the direction of a project or policy. The outcome is your responsibility, and this is a powerful position to have!
Because of the negative connotations people attribute to this kind of accountability, they only see the potential for blame, and not the potential for empowerment. While the possibility of receiving criticism remains, there is also tremendous opportunity for praise and acclaim.

Establishing a framework of accountability is the lowest cost, most practical, and most productive method for building trust and increasing performance- Mike Myatt
Use accountability as recognition and reward:

1. When giving accountability for an issue, task or project, make sure that there is the requisite authority
2. Make sure that everyone knows when Sally is accountable for the outcome, she is also in charge of who works on the project, where time is allocated, the budget for it, etc.
3. Make sure leaders are available to those with specific accountabilities to coach, counsel and assist in being successful
Instead of seeing accountability as the route to being blamed for failures, we must see it as the path to being celebrated for success.
If this were the case, perhaps more employees (from entry-level to upper management) would be more enthusiastic about taking on new projects, about volunteering ideas, and about embracing leadership roles.
This change must begin with the way we think, as well as the way we speak. We must reclaim the term “accountability” for positive use; only then will the prospect of increased responsibility serve to inspire and empower employees to achieve great things.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Cube 2.14 will increase your organizational effectiveness. We specialize in developing innovative, practical solutions to create productive workplaces that exceed goals.