Who, Me? Accountability for Contractors Part 2: Which Comes First… Responsibility or Accountability?

1 : the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

1 : the quality or state of being responsible; as a : moral, legal, or mental accountability b : reliability, trustworthiness
2 : something for which one is responsible

Ever since we were little children, we’ve been faced with these two words. However, the words take on different meanings with each passing phase of our lives. Knowing more about each can help us achieve more as business owners and get more out of our team members. Diving into each word and its meaning leaves us with some basic questions: Is one better than the other? What’s the difference, after all?

First, let’s explore the word, accountability. As kids, accountability typically meant avoiding behavior that was frowned upon or avoiding consequences of not doing something. Our parents would hold us accountable to play nicely with other children, clean our plates by eating all of the vegetables (and not slipping them under the table to the dog), or trying to keep our rooms somewhat organized. Most of this behavior was motivated by fear of repercussions. So to many children, accountability meant avoiding negative consequences.

Now, let’s review the other word, responsibility. To youngsters, this usually translates into things like taking care of the pet turtle, walking grandma’s dog regularly, or even doing one’s homework right after school. Although not necessarily fun in nature, being responsible tended to mean something positive, in a way. The word itself, when broken down, includes the word “response” so it implies that by doing something, or engaging in some action, we will elicit a response from another. Typically, when we take care of our responsibilities, we are rewarded with a positive response. Our turtle grows and is happy. Grandma rewards with a plate of cookies. And our teachers reward us with a good grade.

So one could argue that the word accountability breeds “fear” in us while “responsibility” breeds the thought or feeling that we have an opportunity to “shine”. But how are these two words related and which one makes more sense to instill in our team members first?

Well, if we follow reason, it may benefit us as business owners to take the “positive” spin of providing what we wish our team to be “responsible” for. This is typically conveyed through a very solid and well-defined job description. By having someone’s responsibilities properly outlined we are, in a sense, laying out a plan of accountability, but doing so in a way that suggests that by doing these things in your job description and goals, a team member will be rewarded. And we avoid directly communicating that by not living up the responsibilities, or by not being accountable, the team member is going to have to be “let go”.

So, the next time you build a plan, think about how you might hold your people “accountable” by allowing them first to be “responsible”.

Be sure to check back for our next installment in the Accountability Series:
Who, Me? Accountability for Contractors Part 3: The accountability life cycle


About Service Excellence Training

Service Excellence Training (SET), www.serviceexcellencetraining.com, was founded with the purpose of guiding the independent contractor through the uncertainty of larger competitive environments and helping them to operate their businesses with greater control and predictability. Founded in 2010, SET has more than tripled its number of contractor clients and is offering a greater number of courses in 2012.

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