Responsibility Answers: Accountability vs. Responsibility

“[Responsibility] is that whole system of what we do to generate our own sense of ownership.. and inspire others to do the same. [Accountability] is about how we hold others to account for results or behavior or performance.”

Christopher Avery

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Responsibility Answers

Responsibility vs. Accountability

In the English language, we use accountability and responsibility very interchangeably. Many languages around the world don’t have two different words.

There are some important differences, no matter what word you use. Responsibility refers to the internal feeling of ownership, the internal ability to respond to whatever happens.

This is what we’re talking about in the work that we do with The Responsibility Process®. When we’re below the line, we feel like we are victims in and have no power. In the mental state of responsibility, we have amazing creativity, freedom, choice and power. We feel bigger than any problem.

Responsibility is that whole system of what we do to generate our own sense of ownership, and inspire others to do the same.

Accountability is about how we hold others to account for results, behavior, or performance.

In this system, we have performance reviews, delegation processes. We have goal setting, we have documentation – we have huge organizational systems designed by consultants to drive accountability into the organization.

The responsibility system operates internally, and it’s a little difficult to access. My life’s work is about how we make this system more accessible, more understandable.

The accountability system is completely external to you. In other words, whether or not you are held to account, isn’t up to you, it’s up to somebody else. The system isn’t necessarily fair.

I know that you’ve been held to account for stuff that you didn’t do – in ways that were unfair, wrong, or unethical. I know you’ve taken actions that have gone unnoticed, actions that you should have been held to account for in a very positive, honoring, acknowledging way.

We have two different systems. One’s outside of us, the other’s inside of us. They’re both pretty important, but I find is that our organizational systems tend to rely way too much on the accountability system. The trouble with that is that we can create it in a way that’s burdensome and over controlling and actually drives ability down.

There’s a multi-billion dollar accountability industry out there that says we’re going to drive accountability into your organization. Often when that happens, what comes with it is fear and when fear comes in, responsibility goes out.

The reason that we tend to buy accountability systems is that they’re hardware and software, documentation and branding, logos and templates – stuff that you can spend money on, and they promise better control.

It’s difficult to buy a responsibility system because responsibility is more amorphous.

Responsibility deals with people and humanity and culture and leadership and it deals with individual interpretation. Responsibility is subjective. Responsibility trumps accountability, every time.

If you have a low responsibility system, no amount of accountability system is going to drive responsibility in. If you have a high responsibility system, a very lightweight accountability system will do just fine.

We’ve been trained as good workers to say, “Why yes, I want to be held to account.” Bunk. I don’t want to be held to account. I don’t want anybody to ever have to hold me to account.

I am going to take 100% responsibility for signing up for what I do. I’m only going to do things that I enjoy, and that I’m committed to doing. I’m going to be taking responsibility for my own performance, my own actions, my own agreements, my own communication, my own hours, my own results.

If anybody ever has to hold me to account,  then I’m not taking responsibility.

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