We hear often the words “I or they are responsible”. Or the question, “who is responsible” or “who will be responsible”. As well as the declaration (less heard) of “I am responsible”.
Less commonly used is the word accountable. Trade it for responsible in any of the above quotes and it feels different. Responsibility is an internal descriptor. Pointing to the center where it lies.
The concept of responsibility does not easily lend itself to clarity. Individuals bend its definition to meet their interests. Blurring the boundaries of decision rights to suit their needs. Giving us diverse interpretations of responsibility depending on who you ask. Where sometimes it changes depending on the situation.
Sometimes, those who are identified as being responsible, create stories to deflect criticism for not fulfilling their duties by pushing the blame on others or on something out of their control. Is this type of behavior what we want to see when someone is responsible? Again, making the foundation of responsibility weak and confusing.
Accountability is a more active and practical descriptor to use instead of responsibility. It is less inward-focused. Acting more like a promise from one to another for completing an action or sustaining something of value.
To be accountable requires us to answer two questions: to whom and for what. It demands both clarity and a promise for action. Once to whom and for what is defined, there can be no bending or situational interpretations. Implicitly giving the individual or team clear boundaries and goals for what needs to be done.
Many claim to be responsible but far fewer embrace the deeper commitment of being accountable. We must seek accountability when we are responsible. Giving us a much better understanding of the duties we must fulfill.