Accountability: A process for performance

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 02:17 pm

Business results, good or bad, are the byproduct of each person’s understanding of the stated expectations, their competency to perform the tasks, their level of commitment and how empowered they are to take timely action. This generates a cycle of focused momentum and deeper engagement.

Let’s explore each of these elements:


Expectations make clear what is to be accomplished. 

People come to work wanting to make a meaningful difference. When expectations are clearly communicated and understood, people can mobilize to develop the roadmap for achieving the stated goals.   

Poorly communicated expectations can create confusion and, as a result, people may procrastinate because they are afraid to start down a path only to find that it’s the wrong path.  Confused people find it difficult to effectively plan, make decisions and execute as they second-guess themselves, wondering if they are choosing the right path.


People with the knowledge, expertise and capability to do what is needed rally forward to achieve the goals, but not everyone comes to the job possessing all of the skills to execute. Training closes this gap and empowers people to transition effort into right action. 

The lack of proper training and onboarding contributes to people making mistakes, which results in rework, missed deadlines and disappointment.

Before assigning responsibility for results, be sure that the individuals who are given the assignment are competent to do the work or have the proper support to assist them in learning.  Nothing is more discouraging than to feel like you’ve failed before you’ve started.


Determination is the inner fire that ignites initiative and transforms commitment into right results. Committed people focus on solutions, not limitations. They don’t let what they can’t do interfere with what they can do. When faced with a hurdle, barrier or impasse, committed people find a way to go around, above or below an issue to break the logjam. They refuse to play small. 

Commitment comes from within. It’s a power that can be unleashed, but it cannot be taught.   


People may have strong intent to achieve a goal, but if the organization hasn’t empowered them to bring the right people together, if they don’t have access to essential pieces of information or if they are not permitted to make timely decisions, they may find themselves stuck. Results-driven people will tolerate this only for so long before they decide that it is time to move on.    


People want to be a part of a winning team. Most know that they can’t do it alone, but with the right mix of talent, they can make magic happen. 

The most inspired and committed people want to be the best and do their best every day. For high performers, the thrill of the win is central to their being.

And then there are those on the other end of the spectrum who were likely told that they couldn’t, shouldn’t or aren’t “good enough” when they were young and now they live with paralyzing self-doubt. Some describe it as “a voice that sits on my shoulder and nags at me all day long, saying, ‘You’re not good enough!’ ‘You’re gonna fail.’ ‘Stop before you make a fool of yourself.’”

A leader can sometimes help break this emotional logjam by giving these individuals smaller projects and the right support so they can realize small wins. Over time, as the individual’s self-confidence builds and competency expands, he or she can be given more responsibilities.

At some level, almost everyone wants their work to matter, which is why when results are measured and impact quantified, people better understand the value of their contribution. This generates excitement and positive momentum, which can lead to building a high-trust culture.


Accountability is often defined as “taking ownership,” but this is only part of the picture. For someone to be accountable, they need to know and understand what is expected of them. This includes the behaviors, the activities and the results. They need to have permission to get others involved when needed, and they need to have the authority to act.   

When you consider accountability as a process, the opportunity to set people up for success becomes more deliberate and the methodology makes it much easier to replicate across the organization at every level.

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Christine McMahon
Christine McMahon helps leaders develop strategies and improve speed of execution by developing leadership talent, creating alignment between business functions and improving communications and accountability up, down and across a business. She is co-founder of the Leadership Institute and is in partnership with the WMEP. For keynote presentations, executive coaching, sales and leadership training, she can be reached at: