Accountability: Buzzword or Basic?

We hear a lot about accountability when we work in hospitals.  "We don’t have it."  "We should have it." "Why don’t we have it?" Is accountability just a buzzword that gets tossed around? Or is it a fundamental, basic concept that represents a mindset and a set of skills to implement?

So what does it mean to be "accountable"?  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "answerable".  Hmmm, not very enlightening in a practical sense.  So here is my personal definition of being accountable for something:

  • There is an objective that needs to be met
  • I am willing to be publicly measured on meeting the objective, the "what"
  • I am willing to be publicly measured on "how" I meet the objective (behaviors employed)
  • I feel empowered to utilize my skills, tools and power to meet the objective

Mix these elements together in a beaker and I can make accountable.

How many things are you accountable for in your organization? Can you list not only the objectives but the measures, tools, skills and decision-making authority?  If not you, does someone else have the authority to meet the objective? If not, then no one is accountable for that objective. Well, maybe the CEO, by default. But how many specific objectives does/can a CEO really manage and run with?

Accountability should be more than a buzzword. Organizations don’t function nor perform well without accountability.

If you are responsibility for a major function in your hospital, start filling up your beaker by:

  • Listing your function’s objectives
  • Putting names by each objective of who is accountable for it
  • Thinking about how to give that named person the elements required to be successful (i.e. measures of success, power and tools to accomplish the objective)
  • Don’t forget to publish the results for all to see

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