Accountability, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is "the obligation or responsibility to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."Let's explore what this definition means.

First, there is an obligation. An obligation is a promise to do something. If a company has a financial obligation and fails to meet it, it may go into bankruptcy. If an individual fails to meet their obligations, they may also fall into a state of bankruptcy - i.e., failure.

Second, it is a personal responsibility. Each individual needs to account for their own success or failure.

From my experience, from being a partner in a firm to consulting with hundreds of firms, I don't think that the average partner takes accountability seriously. If they did, they would take their individual goals more seriously and not let their fellow partners down.

Here are two questions to ask your partners:

* Do you understand the meaning of accountability and everything it implies?"

* How do we create a culture of accountability in our firm?

WHEN IT'S LACKING

There is a real financial impact on the firm because of a lack of accountability. Partners have low trust and are very reluctant to share clients with other partners. Decisions take a long time or perhaps don't get made at all. Partners operate like sole practitioners, rather than members of a team.

At January's "Winning Is Everything" conference in Las Vegas, the keynote speaker, Pat Williams, gave the following sports analogy that captures the essence of accountability: "You know you have developed a team when during a basketball game, you trust that when you throw your teammates the ball, they will throw it back to you."

This is the essence of a great team - knowing that your teammates are committed to you, as well as to themselves.

There is also a trust impact where there is low accountability. When partners don't have accountability, they have a difficult time setting and achieving goals. They don't want to have written goals. Partners also focus on getting what they want, rather than helping the whole team win.

"Give me the ball," is their attitude. Partners do not improve their skill sets. Finally, they often fail to get the results they say they are going to get. If you see these things in your firm, you are lacking a culture of accountability.

WHY NOW?

Lack of accountability is not a new phenomenon. There are several factors that have caused accountability to become an important element of successful CPA firms today. The external environment has changed.

* Scarcity of people. Finding good staff and developing future partners still remains a critical problem for the profession. One of the key issues facing firms today is the lack of future owners. This problem has reached such epic proportions that firms are requiring more of their current owners and staff.

* Pressure to produce results for clients. Clients continue to become more sophisticated and want more than just compliance services. Yesterday's services have become commoditized and productized, and clients have access to the same software programs that many accountants use. Clients continue to demand more value-added services.

* Profit squeeze. Both clients and firms are feeling the profit squeeze. It's no longer acceptable for partners to just be busy. They now need to produce results.

Don't think of accountability as just another management program du jour. It is the essence of your success, especially in these trying times.

August Aquila is chief executive of Aquila Global Advisors LLC. Reach him at (952) 930-1295 or aaquila@aquilaadvisors.com.

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