Accountability Part 2: Both Sides Now

Accountability in business

(This is the second of a five-part series on accountability. The first was posted here last Thursday. It should be read to the tune of Both Sides Now.)

How well do you delegate? Are you as good at giving credit as blame? How do you react when you ask somebody to do something and they do it differently than you thought (or hoped) they would?

What does accountability mean to you? How important is it? Where and on what in your business do you hold yourself accountable? How much do you deal with accountability for team members, employees … vendors?

If you look up definitions, you get a lot about politics, and relatively little about management. I wonder why not?

My personal favorite definition of accountability is: Being responsible to somebody for some activity. Doesn’t that sound like it should be management?

Accountability breeds responsibility.” Stephen R. Covey

    “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Moliere

Why accountability now? Because business has changed so much, and has so much more change coming. Last week I posted on the tension between working in the office and working anywhere and everywhere else. That’s just one factor.

  • Consider how accountability has revolutionized marketing, particularly advertising, in the last 10 years. With tools pioneered by the rise of Google, we have pay per click, click rates, conversion rates, and measurability. Before the web that was very hard to get.
  • In my own years building a business, I’ve watched the planning process and how businesses grow. And I’ve come to believe in an accountability dip that naturally happens when growing a company from the early 2-5 people stage, to the growth and organizational stage with 25-50 people.
  • We don’t have a lot of systems for accountability. I think it’s supposed to be built into the planning process. It should pivot around metrics, track results, and — here’s the hard part — give people both sides (credit and/or blame) of the results.
  • We’re sort of getting used to accountability in phone calls. You know what it is – it’s the recording. It happens a lot, or at least I get that phone message we all hear, “this call may be recorded.” I wonder how much really happens with recorded calls.
  • What about accountability in email? We tend to treat email as personal, so that looking at somebody’s email output, even reading emails, seems obtrusive. Nobody wants to be big brother. On the other hand, email is your business, it’s legally evidence in a lawsuit if it comes to that, it’s your company’s face to the public.
  • Accountability on the web, perhaps? Time spent reading blogs, watching twitter, minding LinkedIn or Facebook. Do you know somebody whose Facebook updates contradict what they tell their boss? Is instant messaging part of normal work flow? How would we measure that, and track results.

I posted here about a year ago on the big brother aspects of monitoring employees in small business, particularly what people are doing with their web browsers.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot more time in my blog reader and Twitter. Is that good business? Am I accountable to anybody for the time spent on social media? Does it relate to what my company wants me to do?

Those are good questions. They lead to this issue of accountability in the new world.

Conclusion? How about this, from Richard Smith’s 10 new Golden Rules for Living in a Web2.0 World, on the Huffington Post:

1) Do unto others as you would have them announce to 100,000 people you have done.

That rule would certainly up the accountability quotient, and fast.

Image credit: The author’s Planning Startups Stories site


Tim Berry Tim Berry is Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, Founder of Bplans, Co-Founder of Borland International, Stanford MBA, and co-founder of Have Presence. He is the author of several books and thousands of articles on business planning, small business, social media and startup business.

16 Reactions
  1. How about personal responsibility? I think it all starts and ends with the unique individual.

    I have the perception that Europe could be a bit more relaxed with web monitoring at companies than in North America. At the end it should be the result that counts. I think that checking your social networking sites could have great impact on your work. Similar to have healthy conversations at the water cooler. But everything should be taken in consideration and not have negative effect on other areas of your work-life.

    You should have policies and procedures, but overall have an integrated view on how to conduct productive work, creating, adding & trading value, and achieving your personal values in life.

  2. Great article. I agree with Martin that it all starts and ends with personal responsibility.

  3. I definitely agree with you Martin. Everything starts within ourselves. In fact, no one could ever help us far better than ourselves.

  4. I think that checking your social networking sites could have great impact on your work. Similar to have healthy conversations at the water cooler.

  5. Mani Malarvannan (Outsource Account):

    Good to hear. Then we are on speaking terms! 🙂

    Could you compare and contrast the office culture in America (Twin cities) with India (Chennai)?

  6. Sharon & Arthur: We are creating support for the individual here and now! 🙂

    Have you good examples on companies that are focusing on the individual employee? As one example, go and read on BB&T’s site (Attributes Of An Outstanding BB&T Employee).

  7. What about demanding accountability from services you use and paying only based on performance? I’ve been moving more and more of my business to places that only charge based on results – for example, I moved my PR away from a retained publicist to Publicity Guaranteed which only charges based on articles placed – and I’ve already saved money. I am looking into similar such services in other areas where I’m spending. Demanding accountability isn’t just about personal responsibility but also demanding it from others you work with. Great blog post!

  8. Dan,

    I agree with you that should demand accountability with people you work with. I see it as a matter of trading value for value between individuals. It is based on the virtue of justice.

  9. Interesting thoughts. I have also always wondered if those taped phone calls ever come into play when they review employee performance. I know a few people whose experiences have been less than ideal with a service rep.

    Love the qoute from Richard Smith’s article too. 🙂

  10. Hi Tim,
    Wow. Wow. 1) Do unto others as you would have them announce to 100,000 people you have done.

    I’m simply going to have to come back in and re-read and digest the full weight of this post. But thanks so much for writing it.


  11. wow powerful quote Tim.
    Hmm now that I think about it this can help or harm you depending on the situation.

    let’s hear some thoughts about the quote from others?

  12. All excellent points – The Moliere quote says it all indeed “It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.” Thanks for that

  13. Thanks Tim. In working with clients developing leadership skills (theirs and their reports), we spend a lot of time on accountability. It’s interesting how few understand who’s accountable for what.