When accountability is the topic on the table in an organization of any size, there are two questions that dominate:
“What are “they” accountable for?”
Accountability is interesting because (just like its cousin responsibility) it is the act where the most amorphous fears that people in organizations have about power and politics, come into play.
The answer to the question Who’s accountable?” should be “Everybody.” But, if that’s the case, then no one really is. The realistic answer is that one person is accountable for everyone’s outcomes and actions.
And that person is the person who takes responsibility for accomplishing a task, attaining a goal, or creating an outcome.
The answer to the question “What are “they” accountable for?” should be “Results.” But the fact is, results are defined by everybody at the table differently, and thus every individual puts her own stamp on the result.
The realistic answer is that each person is only accountable for results they select, thus increasing buy-in and creating a normative culture of negotiation and conflict management, rather than a normative culture of power struggles and political posturing.
There are only a few good answers to the two questions that matter around accountability and neither answer addresses how to motivate people to care about the outcomes for which they are ultimately accountable.
Can you be accountable without caring?