Responsibility vs. accountability is a topic that can get easily confusing. The two are similar yet have key differences.

These are key topics to understanding how to drive stronger performance in the workplace – which happens to be one of the biggest challenges in business today.

Allow me to explain what responsibility and accountability REALLY mean – and why they’re not enough in today’s workplace.

Responsibility vs. Accountability – What They Mean and Why They’re Not Enough!

Responsibility is the first step in driving performance. It basically means a team member is given specific tasks and expected to complete those tasks.

Accountability takes things one step further. It’s about what happens after the responsibility is fulfilled or not. Accountability means doing what needs to be done to correct a mistake after you’ve made it.

It means looking in the mirror when you fall short of your goals and doing what needs to be done to hit the goal next time. In short, it’s making sure a team member isn’t let off the hook when they fall short of expectations.

Responsibility and accountability are important. But if you stop there, your team will never reach its full potential. Here’s why…

Teams Need to Go Beyond Responsibility vs. Accountability With OWNERSHIP

Ownership goes above and beyond responsibility and accountability. It’s about taking initiative to make your work the best it can be and add the most value you possibly can.

When a team member truly owns their work, they look for opportunities to improve the process. They brainstorm ways to make a greater impact and add more value to the team. They strive to deliver not just the expected results, but results in every area of the business affected by their work. They take real pride in their work because they know they’re going above and beyond.

Responsibility and accountability are both task-oriented. You can assign tasks that someone be responsible for, and you can assign that someone be held accountable for x, y and z tasks.

But you can’t assign ownership! After all, real ownership is taking initiative on the tasks and goals that you AREN’T assigned.

Much as leaders want their teams to take ownership, you can’t assign it. Team members must choose to take ownership for themselves.

Creating an Environment Where Teams Choose Ownership

The good news is that leaders can create environments where teams CHOOSE to take ownership. The environment that leaders create on their teams has a huge influence on whether anyone wants to take ownership or not.

One simple step leaders can do here is allow their team members to solve their OWN problems. Many leaders think it’s their job to solve problems. But in reality their job is to empower their teams to solve their OWN problems.

Next time a team member comes to you for help, don’t give them a step-by-step plan. Ask questions – ask what they’ve tried, what they think would be a good next step, and so forth. Guide them to their own solutions.

When people develop their own plans and solutions, they’re naturally more invested and want to see them succeed. It encourages them to choose ownership.

On a similar note, it’s best to let your teams make their own decisions. Sure, there are times when it’s important to step in and make an executive decision. But for day-to-day tasks and processes, allow your teams to make their own decisions and learn from the experience.

You can’t expect someone to feel ownership over their results if they don’t feel ownership over the decisions that got them there!

Last but not least, try to assign responsibilities and tasks that align with team members’ strengths and interests. People are far more likely to desire ownership over an area of work that they know they excel in, or have a strong interest in. No one wants to take ownership over something that bores them to tears, or that they suspect they’ll struggle with.

When Teams Take Ownership, The Sky is the Limit

Going from responsibility and accountability to ownership is a huge shift. It takes a lot of time and effort on the part of leadership and HR to encourage teams to choose it. Since it’s not something that can be directly controlled, you may find yourself wondering if it’s worth the trouble.

When teams take ownership, the results are truly phenomenal. You’d be surprised at what teams can achieve when they own their process and results. It turns good teams into GREAT teams!

John Maxwell said “anything worth having is going to be a struggle.” The same is true for encouraging teams to take ownership. It’s a lot of work…but the results pay dividends!

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out this video I recorded on the subject!