Five Steps for Building Key Accountability

Five Steps for Building Key Accountability

By Maureen Ennis on Apr 1, 2017 5:12:49 PM |


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My customers often call me in as a “team coach.”  It’s my job to help teams get clear on what they need to do, and figure out how to achieve more as an interdependent group. The foundation for making this happen is a proven and simple process for helping people determine their key accountabilities.

Key accountabilities are the essential things someone must do to excel at their job. Unlike job descriptions, which typically list tasks, key accountabilities describe specific responsibilities that are broad in scope but are uniquely owned by one person’s role.

Take a bookkeeper, for example. One task we often associate with bookkeeping is processing invoices. The relevant key accountability would be more like, “Ensure accounts receivable is paid timely so that the business has good cash flow.” Invoicing is a task, while the broader key accountability makes it clear that the bookkeeper is responsible for understanding procurement processes, troubleshooting, developing follow-up systems, and continually improving processes.

For managers who want to be more strategic in their delegation, need to align diverse stakeholders, or want their teams to get better results, using key accountabilities can be a game changer. Here’s how to do it.

Start by  Developing Your Own Key Accountabilities

The heart of this practice is to identify the five essential things for which you are responsible. A good test that you’ve captured the essence of your role is that if you do these five things, you wouldn’t reasonably be expected to do anything else.

Reflect on the purpose and essence of your role and jot down your thoughts.

  1. With your purpose and context in mind, list five things you must do to be successful.
  2. Write each as an action phrase, e.g. “Procure all necessary outsourced L&D services and maintain vendor relationships while staying under or at 100% of the annual allocated budget.”
  3. Review and revise your accountabilities to make sure they are complete and clear. A well-written key accountability is like a well-written goal or objective: it’s specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound.
  4. Prioritize your list from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most important (but not necessarily the thing you spend the most time on).
  5. Estimate the amount of time you spend on this activity during an average month. This is your “as is” estimate. Once you have that done, come up with a “should be” estimate, or how much time is required for you to achieve your goals.


This process will help you identify tasks that you need to stop doing and either automate, delegate, or just let go of. For most managers, delegating can be particularly tough. Good thing you’re about to go through the same process with your team!

Next, Help Your Employees Identify Their Key Accountabilities

Go through the key accountabilities exercise with your team, either during one-on-ones or as a group. Provide coaching to your team members as they assess their priorities and determine their “should be” goals. Ask open-ended questions to engage them in conversations about what key shifts may be required for future success.

Help you reach team members think about their new key accountabilities as a foundation for alignment conversations with stakeholders; having a solid understanding of one’s own their essential purpose will help them communicate their role, priorities, and time requirements to functional leaders within the organization and to customers when necessary.

Now, Share and Review as a Team

Once each team member has developed their own key accountabilities, use them as a way to further teamwork and collaboration. I like to accomplish this through a simple group exercise where each team member records their key accountabilities on a flip chart, and the flip charts are then stationed around a room.

For the first round, invite everyone to tour the room and, using sticky notes on the flip charts, to post any questions they have or suggestions that might help clarify each person’s scope of responsibility. For the second round, invite the group to post sticky notes that state “What I need from you.” For the third and final round, invite the group to post notes that state “What I provide to you.”

Discuss these dependencies as a group to align on a clearly stated vision of how the team should optimally function — and what each person can do to make sure that happens.

I’ve used this series of key accountability exercises with countless organizations and teams to help them get clarity on their own roles, understand each other’s responsibilities, and ultimately work better together. Time and again, I see that when people are clear on what’s expected of them, their ownership over specific outcomes creates the structure and space for true empowerment. And we all know that it’s empowered employees who make things happen.

Have you tried using key accountabilities to take your team to the next level?  I’d love to hear how it went and talk about what else you can do to help your team thrive.

e aspiration you have for how much time you think required for achieving your goals/vision.

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Maureen Ennis

Written by Maureen Ennis

Maureen Ennis is a dynamic change leader with significant accomplishments in business transformation. She leverages a unique blend of competencies spanning strategic planning, human resources, technology and leadership. Maureen has over 25 years of corporate experience at Honeywell, Prudential and other Fortune 100 companies leading transformation herself and now serves as a trusted advisor to leaders driving real change.