Accountability; What You Need to Know

It is one thing to hold someone accountable; a task or project can be handed to someone, they can be briefed, given a due date, and that’s that; but before we can hold others accountable, and before they can even hold themselves accountable, they must first take ownership.

Ownership is about more than giving someone a project, and it is about more than someone agreeing to take on that task. As an employee, taking ownership of something is not just understanding the brief, but asking how and where this project fits into the bigger picture of the company and its products/services.

Taking on work, performing tasks to the letter, ticking boxes; these are all part of the job, but I don’t think this equates to taking ownership, it reads more as compliance.

As a manager, it is impossible to force someone to take ownership, but it is possible to encourage it.


  • When briefing employees, don’t just give them a checklist of tasks to complete, make sure to fill them in on how their work fits into the larger picture. Where does this work fit into the value chain? Does anyone else have work dependent on its completion? Is there a larger project that is dependent on it? What is the end goal of this piece of work?
  • An employee who knows what their work is contributing to is an employee who can make better-informed decisions and take pride in their work.

“Why me?”:

  • As managers, we need to be sure of why we are giving specific tasks to specific people. A given employee’s job description might include the work they have been given, but are they the most suitable for the task? Different people have different strengths and skills, and though a person might fit the specifications of their job description, they might not have all the necessary skills for a given task. Some employees pay better attention to detail, while others work best with certain team members.
  • Sit down with employees to discuss why specific tasks were given to them and explore the possibility that some of them might need further training in order to complete a given task to the best of their ability.


  • There is a tendency in business to expect that everyone knows exactly what they need to do at all times, that however vague a brief might be, it explains “enough” for a team to get the work done. This may have worked around one hundred years ago, but in the modern age, every other task has half a dozen prerequisites and even more co-dependencies; things need to be explained and discussed at every step in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to prevent things from going wrong.


  • Tying in with the previous point; managers will often expect autonomy from their employees, “I’ve given them the work, it is their responsibility now” is a reasonable assumption to make. But without the necessary communication, a given employee might “take their work in the wrong direction”, they might make mistakes
  • When we communicate clearly and often, an employee is free to be autonomous in their work, knowing full well that they are going in the right direction. And the more autonomous an employee is, the more ownership of their work they will take.

The four above points are not just targeted at managers—employees should take note of them too.

As an employee, you should be asking about the grand scheme, finding out where your work fits in to it all; take a look at your strengths, recognise them and discuss them with your managers; communicate with your higher-ups and team members, discuss briefs, plans and co-dependencies – the more you know about your work, the more productive you’ll be and the better your work will turn out.

As a leader, it is impossible to force someone to take ownership, but it is possible to encourage it.