Ownership and Accountability

The managing partner of a professional firm is preparing for partner review meetings, where goals are set for each partner for the upcoming year. Each year, he surveys the partners prior to starting the process, asking “What are the most important things we should be considering when we set individual goals?”

Each year, “greater partner accountability” is at or near the top priority. When he follows up with individuals to clarify their concerns, every partner answers, “None of the other partners are as accountable as I am.”

My friend David Halpern at The Alternative Board® says “Every business owner has the God-given right to procrastinate.” He, like me, believes in the friendly persuasion of a peer advisory board to help keep owners on track. For many it works extremely well. For others…not so much.

Not everyone embraces accountability. As a facilitator, there are few things more painful than a client that quits one of our peer groups because of their own non-performance. That isn’t non-performance by the peer group, their advice is usually terrific. Once in a while, however, I’ll get a call like this:

“I enjoy discussing my challenges with people who understand them, but every month I come to the meeting and report that I’ve done nothing to address them. I can sense that the group is growing frustrated with my failure to follow up on anything. I understand that my business needs to change, but I’m just not doing anything about it.”

Their businesses aren’t failing. They don’t ignore problems, they deal with them as they arise. If it isn’t a problem, it can wait.

The questionnaireThere is a difference between responsibility and accountability. A small business owner bears the burdens of responsibility every day. We all know that customers depend on us to deliver products and services as promised. Employees rely on us to run the business well enough to secure their paychecks. Such responsibility comes with the territory.

The late Stephen Covey divided tasks into four groups. Important tasks fall into two categories, those that are important and urgent, and those that are important but not urgent. If you spend all of your time handling the urgent, you have little time left to deal with the important tasks that create long-term improvement.

Running any business requires handling a bunch of important/urgent issues. Everyone has days when they careen from crisis to crisis. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of handling responsibilities, and then basking in the relief of having nothing urgent on your plate. That’s where accountability comes in.

Accountability is another type of commitment. It’s the difference between doing what you have to do, and doing what you should be doing. The responsibilities of an owner are required. If you don’t address them, the business will fail. Ownership accountability comes when you accept your higher role as a CEO. It is planning for the future, communicating your vision to employees, or developing new opportunities.

In a small business, the owner is both manager and CEO. Management responsibilities take up most of your time, but CEO accountability is what moves the company forward.

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2 Responses to Ownership and Accountability

  1. bob french says:


    nicely said, clear and succinct, I appreciate all your words of wisdom, thank you!

  2. Blair Koch says:

    Great article John, as usual! You cut to the chase!

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