The Three Key Components of Accountability

You know when you’ve achieved an understanding of full accountability with someone; it’s when an individual can take complete ownership. In other words, they take responsibility for their attitudes, behaviors, and work tasks. Ultimately, this is the desired outcome of feedback, accountability, and coaching initiatives implemented by managers. Likewise, full accountability is comprised of these three critical components and the ownership they seek to encourage. Keep in mind that each one is just as important as the next. 

1. Accountability: Clarity and Choice Ownership

Accountability begins with understanding what the issue is for you. Additionally, it’s also about analyzing both your own issue as well as where your employee or peer may have made a decision causing a poor result. First, you do the work. After that, you verify your thinking in your conversation with that employee.

2. Feedback: Awareness and Performance Ownership

Constructive feedback conversations are more than just an information dump. This is a time for you to get things off your chest around under-performance or alert others to your disappointments or unmet expectations. This aspect of accountability occurs when you share your perspective and experience. In other words, it’s about intentionally seeking if the other person will take any ownership of that perspective. Only then can you move to the third aspect of accountability. That is to say, the “now what?” part. If they’ll own it, now what?

3. Coaching: Development and Change Ownership  

Coaching may or may not be the next step. However, if you’re going to do any kind of meaningful skill development or behavioral change work as a manager, coaching should always be considered as the next step. The central question of coaching is this: What does the person who’s taken ownership do next to get better and improve performance? You cannot coach your way to better performance and higher engagement without achieving accountability first. Effective coaching, by its very nature, also demands accountability skills to deliver on the expected changes and improvements.

Why are they crucial?

Each of these components of accountability is crucial in fostering success amongst a team of individuals.  If your organization, division, or team is going to be successful at developing people, building skills and capability, or changing behaviors, you cannot get there with feedback alone. You cannot get there with coaching alone. You must first build capability around accountability, then see what your coaching efforts bring to bear.

When I train managers on accountability skills, one of the assertions with which I begin is this: If you can own it, you can change it. If there’s no ownership, there’s no change. If you’re not working with the aim of achieving ownership from the get-go, you will not be able to achieve any real significant or sustainable form of performance improvement. 

Shifting your mindset.

Remember, accountability takes practice, but not as much as you might think. Shifting your mindset from one based on accountability as punitive or potential conflict to one around accountability as clarity, then it becomes much easier to do. Thus, all your reservations and hesitations dissolve into an expression I hear regularly in every class I teach, even from the seasoned managers: “I wish I’d known this earlier in my career!” You can effectively hold others accountable without all the drama. Moreover, also achieve performance ownership. When you do, you will improve your ability eventually to move into coaching and developing your employees, teams, and direct reports.


Are you a manager struggling when it comes to workplace accountability? Step up to the plate and really explore what accountability can accomplish in practice by reading my book, Own Up!®. Get a free chapter by clicking the link below the book.