The “5 W’s & H” of Accountability


What is Accountability?

accountabilityLike most concepts, Accountability can be best seen through a progression scale. At one extreme, Accountability is:  (A) being held responsible for accomplishing a goal or assignment, and at the other end Accountability is: (B) choosing to take action to achieve desired results.


A  ——————————–>B

At point A, the employee is being held responsible by another person, probably the manager or supervisor. At the other extreme, point B, the employee is assuming personal responsibility. This is a growing process for most people and most organizations. The employee needs to learn certain things to feel confident about accountability.  The organization also needs to learn certain things to feel confident about accountability. As they both learn, they can progress gradually from point A to point B in the Accountability Continuum.

Who defines what will be Accountable?

The person’s immediate supervisor establishes what they will be held accountable for.


Why should there be Accountability?

Accountability is essential for obtaining organizational goals. It helps measure performance. With accountability, one establishes organization’s expectations of the employee as well as employee’s expectations of the organization.


Where should Accountability be applied?

Accountability should be an organization wide initiative.  The board of directors, management at all levels and each employee should be held accountable for their actions as well as their inactions. Each person whose decisions, actions, and assignments affect the effectiveness of the organization should be held accountable.


When should Accountability be applied?

Accountability should not be assumed. It should be clearly communicated. It should be discussed, negotiated and agreed upon with follow-up communications. It should be communicated at the beginning of any assignment and whenever there are changes.


How should Accountability be applied?

Accountability requires assessment. One must have evidence that what the person is being held accountable for is within their capacity and control. It is incorrect to hold someone accountable for something they do not know how to deal effectively with or they have no control over the situation. Various skills and steps are needed to develop effective accountability behavior in the workplace. For starters, the supervisor should:

  1. Evaluate: can they do it, is it within their control?
  2. Communicate what is expected of them
  3. Establish boundaries
  4. Ensure understanding
  5. Communicate results
  6. Recognize performance
  7. Follow-up
  8. Model the behavior of Accountability


There are many benefits to creating an Accountability Culture. But it does not happen naturally.  If you are a supervisor or manager, your role is important in making this happen. You are the one who can influence your team more than anyone else. Your behavior makes all the difference. Remember: Accountability can improve productivity and profits.

The author, Dr. Lucy Ruiz, is an industrial-organizational psychologist and founder of Teams for Success, a consulting firm in organizational transformation, learning and coaching; email:

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