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What is accountability?

How can you hold yourself or your business to account? This article looks at the role of accountability in supporting diverse innovation.
© Creative Computing Institute

In this article, we are going to look at the importance of accountability in supporting diverse innovation.

What is accountability?

Accountability and transparency are closely related; While transparency is about openness, honesty and conducting business in the open, accountability can be broadly defined as ‘the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions’ (1).

It also means being responsible for inactions, such as failing to call out discrimination, or not actively working to improve diversity and inclusion, for example. According to Jessie Moore, it is about “accepting responsibility for both failures and successes.

Crucially though, it is not about creating a blame culture where failure equals liability and punishment; on the contrary, it’s about empowerment and learning.” (2)

Accountability in the workplace

Accountability in the workplace means that all employees are ‘responsible for their actions, behaviours, performance and decisions’ (3). It can help build trust, as it stops people from passing the buck or blaming others when things go wrong.

A lack of individual accountability can have a negative knock-on effect on other team members and the larger team culture.

This can happen because missed deadlines or incomplete work directly impacts others, or because it erodes standards in the organisation. As Hiba Amin puts it: “Your team lacks accountability if coming late to meetings has become part of your team culture.”

Leaders and accountability

Leaders also need to be accountable for their companies’ performance and actions. Top executives’ activities have very strong impacts, so their activities should be ‘more thoroughly reviewed in order to avoid misconducts and undesired consequences from wrong decisions. (4)

Accountability can also help avoid negligence and wrongdoings in the workplace. Boards of Directors and shareholders should (and often do) hold CEOs to account, though they cannot always guarantee full accountability (5).

When Mark Zuckerberg was required to testify in US Congress in light of revelations that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to influence US voters, several commentators noted that this represented a new era in accountability (6,7).

Measuring success

Accountability is also a way of measuring success. A marketing team might be accountable for a certain number of leads coming in from a new landing page, or a sales team for bringing in a certain amount of revenue (8).

Accountability in innovation

In innovation, accountability “provides the necessary framework within which ideas can thrive.” (2) It can help ensure that creative ideas for positive change are seen through the entire innovation process. Think back to Alex talking about how important it is to feel you can fail, then learn from failures and grow as an innovator. A healthy culture of accountability supports this and does not blame innovators when things go wrong.

Accountability for D&I initiatives

In relation to Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, accountability can help ensure that goals and targets are being met and that staff development, training and initiatives are actually having a measurable impact.

Measuring the success of D&I initiatives should not only rely on metrics but also on whether shared goals around inclusive work cultures are being met. Individual and organisation accountability are both important: “unless each individual employee understands the role that they must play in reaching D&I goals, progress is likely to stall.” (8)

It is also important to assess how well things are progressing, and make changes where there is not enough success. Accountability partners can also be helpful, and Nathan will discuss this in more detail in the following video.

References:

  1. Chris Kolmar, 2021. What Is Accountability In The Workplace? (With Examples), Zippia.
  2. Jessie Moore. Supporting Innovation with Autonomy and Accountability

3. Hiba Amin, 2019. How to make accountability a core part of your workplace culture

  1. My Accounting Course. What is Accountability?
  2. John Baldoni, 2018. Zuck-Tocracy: How Facebook Evades Accountability
  3. Julia Carrie Wong, 2018. Congress grills Facebook CEO over data misuse – as it happened, Guardian.
  4. Barbara Ortutay. Why Facebook’s Latest Woes Are Redefining ‘Accountability’ for Tech Companies, Inc.
  5. ELI, Inc. 2019. Hold Company Leaders Accountable for D&I Initiatives in 3 Steps
© Creative Computing Institute
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