In our last two posts, we described two of the three foundations upon which all great companies are built—having a strong, viable Strategy and being aligned around a clear, compelling Vision of the future. In this post, we’re going to describe the third foundation—clear, singular accountability.

Simply put, in great companies, everyone is crystal clear who’s accountable for what, and accountability is always singular, never shared. This level of accountability means that, for anything that must get done in an organization, there is one (and only one) person who ultimately owns making sure that thing “works” and, for fixing it if and when it doesn’t.

Why it Matters

Clear, singular accountability speeds you up. It keeps you from having to spend time figuring out who is supposed to make sure something gets done or who to turn to when it doesn’t get done. It also makes sure people feel the weight of ownership, which increases the number of things that get done both on time and well.

What it Does and Doesn’t Look Like

Clear, singular accountability is essential to any business of any size. In this short video Apple accountability, you can hear Steve Jobs describe how important it is to Apple. Note that he says this makes the company more collaborative, not less.

On a smaller scale, one of our partners, Sean McDermott, learned the importance of clear, singular accountability first-hand. He and a partner bought a business just before the Great Recession of 2008-9. Here’s how he tells the story:

“We’d worked out a comprehensive plan for the first 90 days but hadn’t firmly agreed on what roles each of us would specifically be accountable for, believing we’d get into the business and figure it out.

“Well, like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.’ We immediately got walloped hard, and our comprehensive plan went out the window. My partner and I worked well together, but we didn’t prioritize clarifying our individual accountabilities for several years because we didn’t fully grasp the importance of it.

“The lack of clarity around our accountabilities had a cascading impact on the rest of the company. For many important decisions, department leaders weren’t sure which of us was ultimately accountable, so they solicited input from both of us, which wasted valuable time. Because neither of us was singularly accountable for the resulting decisions, we didn’t personally feel the weight of responsibility for their success or failure. And because the department leaders didn’t specifically report to either of us, holding them accountable for execution around these decisions was difficult. Ultimately, we got things done, but it was much slower, more painful and more expensive than it needed to be.”

Putting the Pieces Together

Strategy and Vision help you know what needs to get done. Clear, singular accountability is the foundation upon which every aspect of execution—of actually getting it done—is built. So, when we start a company down the path of implementing EOS®, clearly defining every seat in the organization in terms of what that seat (and no other seat) owns is the very first thing we do.

Establishing singular accountability up front makes sure nothing important falls through the cracks. It makes it easier to ensure that every seat is filled by someone who is right for it. It creates crystal clarity for the rest of the organization. It also creates crystal clarity for the owner of each seat. If you know that nobody else is accountable for getting something you “own” done, you tend to get busy. You may not always have the answer, but you know it’s your job and no one else’s to make sure it gets figured out.

Does your organization have clear, singular accountability for all the important things that must be done? If not, let us know. We’d love to show you how you can get there.