Accountability LO17436

Dale Emery (
Mon, 16 Mar 1998 18:28:45 -0800

Replying to LO17420 --


I've always been puzzled by what people mean by accountability.

You wrote:
> To me, accountability has a very simple structure:
> Person A answers to Person B for Result C.
> Said a little differently, Person B "accounts" to Person A for Result C.

Yes. The meaning of accountability is hopelessly muddy if you neglect to
answer the questions "Accountable to whom?" and "Accountable for what

Unfortunately, even when I can answer these questions, I'm puzzled. What
does it mean to "answer to" someone?

Often, people take "answer to" to mean "accept blame." That meaning has
the advantage of being very clear, but I don't like it as a definition of

If you wanted me to be accountable to you for some result, how would you
decide whether or not I was "answering to" you? Do you mean that you want
me to explain my actions and the results? Do you need to be satisfied
with my answers? What has to happen for you to be satisfied? What would
my "answering to you" do for you?

What would it mean for you to "hold me accountable?" How exactly would
you hold me accountable? What actions would you take?

For a few years now, I've been avoiding words like accountability and
responsibility, because people have so many different and ambiguous
meanings for them. Instead, I focus on what I want from people and how I
will respond depending on the results I get. I focus on what people want
from me and how they respond to the results I achieve (or don't achieve).
I help clients focus on what they want from each other and how they can
respond to the results they get. When I focus that way, I find I don't
need words like responsibility and accountability.


Dale H. Emery -- Collaborative Consultant
High Performance for Software Development Projects

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