During a recent presentation, I was talking about Power, Authority, Responsibility and Accountability – PARA. During the discussion, the differences between responsibility and accountability caused some confusion. The two are used interchangeably so often that their meanings are blurred. So, I thought that I would perform a thorough research of the two words and write the definitive article to clear all confusion.
After much Internet research, the issue was crystal clear to me: The two words defy concise explanations. Even the great gurus confuse the issue while attempting to define the two words. Some used one of the words to define the other. So here is my attempt.
Let’s begin with the PARA. In the management of departments and people, each department head will have the power, authority, responsibility and accountability to lead the department to the completion of the assigned tasks to the defined levels within the allotted time. To accomplish these tasks they are given the appropriate time, talent and tools – including people.
Each of the subordinates will then be assigned their individual functional tasks and provided the appropriate PARA to accomplish these individual tasks. When all the functional tasks are combined and satisfactorily completed, the department has fulfilled the expectations of management. When the players perform their tasks well and the team wins, there are no problems.
The issues emerge when delegation is performed and when expectations have not been met.
When delegation enters the picture, problems may and will arise when it is not performed properly. Maybe the wrong tasks are delegated to the wrong people with the wrong set of instructions and objectives. Providing the correct PARA is crucial to good delegation practice. The “delegatee” must have the requisite power and authority to complete the task. He must also have the appropriate functional responsibility and the attendant accountability for the task. This is where it gets sticky.
When delegating tasks to another individual, you cannot really transfer the full responsibility for the completion of the task to him. And you cannot transfer full accountability to him either.
What you transfer is functional responsibility and accountability to accomplish the task. The management (leadership) responsibility and accountability remain with the delegator. If the task is not performed to expectation, you (the delegator) are responsible and must hold the accountability for the noncompliance. As the leader/manager you cannot begin finger pointing and blame passing. The tasks were yours before delegation and you cannot delegate that responsibility.
This is why the coach is responsible and is held accountable even when the players play badly. You never hear a good coach say, “It’s not my fault. The quarterback is terrible and that is why we lost.”
I find it interesting that coaches, politicians, managers, etc. say that they take full responsibility for whatever. Of course they do. It was always their responsibility. They should say “You can hold me accountable.” But they don’t. When the department, team, company, country or whatever did not meet expectations, it is the leader that is responsible and should be held accountable.
In many cases the person is responsible but not in control. It does not matter. Generals are relieved of command, coaches are fired, and CEOs are fired for the actions of their people all the time. They always had the responsibility and accountability and they could not be delegated.
Accountability does not necessarily mean bad things. When things go right, those with the responsibility and accountability generally give the credit to those who accomplished the functional tasks. This is a good leadership practice. The team performed well and should be commended and rewarded.
So, if you are blaming your people for not meeting expectations check your delegation practices. You have the PARA for everything and when you hire a staff you are essentially delegating functional tasks to them. Well-defined job descriptions, expectations and objectives outlining the PARA you are giving them go a long way toward helping them do a good job.
In closing, I want to say that I take full responsibility for the content of this writing but not the consequences. Unless, of course, they are good consequences.
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