No one is accountable around here!” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that statement from partner groups and leadership teams — and we hear it from your young people too! Yes, your up-and-coming leaders want to be held accountable, and they also want the leaders in their organizations to be accountable. They see what is possible in an environment that embraces — even demands — accountability.That is why we have dedicated this article to exploring what it takes to build a foundation for accountability in your organization.


We view accountability as one leg of a three-legged stool that enables your firm to run maximally. The other two legs are integrity and ownership. Without these, accountability isn’t possible, so let’s explore integrity and ownership first.

We define integrity as keeping your word — doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it and behaving the way you say you’re committed to behaving. For example, if you and your partners say that you’re committed to work/life balance, but your team members struggle to get vacation time taken and are working considerable overtime without an end in sight, then you have an integrity gap between your actual behavior and your stated commitment. When you commit to review your portion of a project by Thursday, but other client matters come up and you don’t complete it until the following Monday, you have an integrity gap because you did not keep your stated performance commitment. All the good reasons in the world do not change the end result — you didn’t perform as committed.

Identifying your integrity gaps, both individual and organizational, is the first place to start to improve your personal accountability. Without your own personal integrity and accountability, it’s impossible to expect others to be accountable. By keeping your word and behaving in the way you say you’re committed to behave, you set a standard by which to begin to hold others accountable, too.

We all have integrity gaps. Effective leaders discover them and reset expectations — ahead of time — or acknowledge them after the fact without giving unnecessary excuses (or reasons), so a foundation of trust can be established. Doing so allows your team members to begin to have confidence that you will consistently keep your stated commitments.


Once you’ve enhanced your performance on your commitments, the next step is to define ownership in your firm. We’re not talking about equity shares; instead, we’re talking about ownership of each business function, service line, office, employee, client and engagement.

As a leader, you may be building a firm filled with helpers, rather than owners, and even using “help” language when making assignments. Instead, be disciplined and use ownership language when assigning responsibility and delegating tasks, and then define what you expect from the owner. Establishing ownership enables you to identify the “champion” for each area, who will then plan for it, resource it, dream about it, and ultimately be accountable for the success (or failure) of it.

Assign each area only one owner — no sharing! Only one person can run with the ball on the football field, and only one person should have ownership to move forward initiatives, actions, engagements or anything else in your firm. We suggest creating a roles grid that identifies the owners of each of the key areas of your firm. Then break each of those areas down into secondary roles grids, or the components of each of the high-level areas. Think about it in terms of breaking the pieces of your firm down into “boulders” for each business function and service line, and then breaking each boulder down into “rocks,” or components.

As an example, you would first identify an owner for the recruiting function in your firm (which is certainly a boulder) and that person would then break that function down into rocks — like interview scheduling, advertising for candidates, screening and reference-checking processes, campus recruiting (perhaps one owner for each university or college), experienced staff recruiting, offer letters, welcome processes, your “why work for us” Web pages, and so forth. Each of these would be assigned only one owner.

Using different owners will enable you to spread the work and responsibility for various aspects of the recruiting function. As you drill down into each area, you can begin to identify owners at all levels of your business, and everyone can own something. Visit for a sample firm-wide roles grid and several “rock-level” roles grids.

Once each owner has been assigned, they should establish goals for their area. When ownership and goals are defined, you can really begin to put structures and processes in place to hold each other accountable.

Goals should be:

* Specific. Identify what the goal is, who owns it and when it will be complete.

* Measurable. Define what the result will be, even when not financially measured, so that all parties can tell that it has been accomplished.

* Relevant. They should be relevant both to the firm and to the individual who owns them.

Unless you define ownership and identify measures of success, you won’t have specific actions and results to hold each other accountable for, which is why accountability often feels like a “Holy Grail” idea — often sought, but never achieved. Committing to model real integrity by keeping your word and resetting expectations when necessary, and then defining ownership for everything, will provide the basis for developing a culture of accountability.

Only then will you be ready to put the processes and structures in place to ensure a culture of accountability. The next step is building your team’s accountability muscle and enjoying the incredible boosts in productivity, decision-making, empowerment and team-building that will result!

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm to CPA and IT firms.

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