A number of years ago I was talking with the president of a small company that was owned by a much larger entity. The president’s job was to produce healthy profits which would then be dividended up to the parent company. The parent company held him accountable for profits and based his bonus on those profits.
So far no problem in theory. The president though, was completely demotivated and while he was accountable for profits, he didn’t feel responsible for them. (Are you thinking perhaps that these two words are interchangeable? Well they’re not.)
The problem was that the finance team at the parent company took the liberty of charging the subsidiary company for all sorts of things over which the president had no control. They charged him arbitrary management fees, transaction fees, interest charges etc and the president had no input on what these fees were. (For those of you who are accountants we’re talking here about allocated costs. This is my inner accounting nerd coming out. The rest of you can fall asleep here.)
So the thing was that the president was accountable but had no control. As a result, he didn’t feel responsible for the numbers. He was made accountable but didn’t feel responsible so was demotivated.
If you don’t have control over your work you may be accountable for results without feeling responsible.
Accountability is about being liable, answerable.
Accountability is based on logic, responsibility is based on emotions.
You can be given accountability but you cannot be given responsibility, it can only be taken.