Customer Value and the Missing Link

By Chris Ihrig

The terms responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably. While these two words are strongly related, they have distinctly separate meanings in a Fired-Up Culture and significant impact on customer value.

Responsibilities are the tasks, duties, jobs, and activities that belong to an individual or group.

Accountabilities are the results that an individual or group has agreed or promised to deliver to customers, colleagues and the organization.

Typically, under conventional top-down models, responsibility and accountability are purposely separate. Responsibilities are assigned or delegated downward (through the chain of command), but at the end of the day, the person who delegated the task is accountable for the result. Persons in authority take the blame for problems and failures and are held accountable for them. Similarly, they also enjoy the rewards for a job well done by others.

In a Fired-Up Culture, responsibility and accountability are purposely linked. Each person is responsible for the tasks they’ve chosen and accountable for delivering results. When the desired outcome is achieved, the individual gets rewarded. If something goes wrong, however, they are responsible for making things right. Shifting blame is not an option.

Let’s look at Harley-Davidson to better understand the power of linking responsibility and accountability.

Emerging from a period where the company nearly failed in the 1970s, during the 1980s CEO Vaughn Beals launched a number of drastic changes. To improve overall operations, significant transformations were made to the way employees were being treated. Rather than order-takers, Harley-Davidson needed engaged employees at every level of the company. This meant creating a much more inclusive and collegial work atmosphere.[i]

Under Beals’ leadership, the management team partnered with their employees to craft a new social contract. They invited the front lines of Harley-Davidson into the process of rethinking the company’s systems. Over time, through strategic collaboration, the team established an effective partnership resulting in consistently high quality and unparalleled customer loyalty.

By linking responsibility and accountability for each team member, employees were more engaged and in a better position to deliver exceptional value to their customers. It’s important to remember that customers benefit most when the product/service they consume is created and delivered by high-performing individuals in Fired Up Cultures. What do responsibility and accountability look like on your team? Is there room for improvement?

Do you want to deliver better customer value? Link responsibility to accountability. If you need help figuring out what this looks like for your team, feel free to contact us. We would be happy to help spark some ideas that could impact your culture.

[i] Rich Teerlink, “Harley’s Leadership U-Turn,” Harvard Business Review (July-August 2000).