Org structure

How to Build an Effective Accountability Chart

By: Tim Brewer

While the traditional organization chart can clearly show employees by departments, locations, or functional areas, it may not provide the level of detail needed to capture all the accountabilities, especially for larger organizations.

This is where the Accountability Chart comes in.

What Is an Accountability Chart?

Typically, org charts show business, division, or department heads with middle managers and subordinates underneath. 

By comparison, an accountability chart provides a clear view of the major functions within an organization, the primary roles for employees, and the areas of responsibility.

Why an Accountability Chart is Important

Have you ever heard someone say 'That’s not my job', or 'I thought you were doing that?'

Many jobs stall because nobody appears to be responsible for a specific task. It happens more frequently when there isn’t a clear division of duties and employees are unsure which responsibilities belong to them.

Whether you are trying to define accountability for your entire organization or on a project-by-project basis, making sure everyone understands their roles can help create more efficiency. Reducing confusion and defining expectations will help everyone make decisions more quickly, distribute the workload properly, and the actions they are responsible for completing.

Research from McKinsey shows that organizations that have clearly defined roles and built-in responsibility are 76% better than competitors in executing strategic goals.

The RACI Matrix

One way to define roles is to use the RACI matrix, also called a 'Responsibility Assignment Matrix'.

RACI stands for:

  • Responsible: who will complete tasks
  • Accountable: who makes decisions and takes actions on the tasks
  • Consulted: who needs to know about tasks and decisions
  • Informed: who needs updates on actions and decisions

Each RACI component helps define responsibilities.

RACI Matrix for the 'Lord of the Rings'

RACI Matrix for Lord of the Rings

Credit Source: The Digital Project Manager

Here’s a business example...

Let’s say that Nora is creating a marketing plan designed to improve qualified leads for the sales team. While Nora is the responsible party, she has been assigned the task by her manager Laura (who she reports to).

Laura is ultimately accountable for the successful completion of the project and has decision-making authority about strategy.

Nora may consult with the sales team to get their provide input and ensure they are aligned with goals and objectives. When it’s time to implement the plan, those charged with the execution will need to be informed about what needs to be done.

Professional project managers have been using some form of the RACI matrix for years to define:

  • Clear lists of project tasks and deliverables
  • Identification of project stakeholders
  • Assigning responsibility and accountability
  • Ensuring there is someone accountable for every task

There are some pitfalls in using the RACI model, however. There needs to be a clear distinction between who is responsible and who is accountable.

In some cases, this may be the same person - so, no problem - but in many cases, there could be multiple people who are partly or wholly responsible or accountable. Without a clear definition of who does what, there can be confusion and poor outcomes.

When it comes to the consulting roles, your RACI matrix also needs to explain whether the person consulted is providing direction and information to complete the task or whether they will play a role in the decision-making.

In the example above, Nora discussed sales objectives with the team for inclusion in her plan. In some cases, sales managers could play a more active role in helping develop the market plan to produce more sales-qualified leads.

Also, no chart is going to fix a dysfunctional team. While RACI improves workflow and communication, it takes a cohesive group that understands their roles and executes seamlessly to maximize effectiveness.

A study done by the Harvard Business Review emphasized this point well. Examining 125,000 profiles across more than 1,000 companies, government agencies, and non-profits, they found that about 60% of employees felt their organizations were weak at execution.

Employees cited a lack of shared information, unclear decision-making responsibilities, and process structure as impediments to smooth operations.

RACI Rules for Creating Accountability Carts

To be effective, here are some of the rules you should follow when creating an accountability chart using the RACI approach:

  • Every task should have at least one responsible person,
  • Each task should have a single accountable party to ensure clear decision-making authority,
  • Be careful not to overload team members with too many responsibilities,
  • Every team member on a project will have some role, although many will be in the informed category.
  • Make sure you have a communication plan to keep those in consulted and informed roles in the loop.

Accountability Chart - simple overview

Accountability Chart ExampleWhat Management and Execution Frameworks Require an Accountability Chart?

While an accountability chart is an important tool in any business, there are some frameworks for management and execution that require an accountability chart as part of their organization.

'EOS' and 'Scaling Up' are two of them.

1. The Entrepreneurial Operating System

EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, is a set of concepts that more than 100,000 companies use to clarify and simplify their vision.

The EOS construct frames the organizational process using six components, including:

  1. Vision
  2. Data
  3. Process
  4. Traction
  5. Issues
  6. People

Within these components, accountability is essential to producing a strong functioning organization.

2. The Scaling Up Platform

The Scaling Up platform helps companies that are growing rapidly to increase revenue. It focuses on four key disciplines to optimize and manage growth:

  1. Strategy
  2. Cash
  3. Execution
  4. People

Both the execution and people phases call for clear accountability and division of responsibilities.

Other Management and Execution Frameworks

Your organization may not adopt a formal management and execution framework such as EOS or Scaling Up, but you may still benefit from an accountability chart.

In some industries, clearly defined accountability is necessary for compliance. For example, companies governed by Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) are required to define unambiguous roles, activities, and responsibilities as part of their IT framework. Compliance with SOX requires formal documentation of accountability.

Publicly traded companies or privately-held companies with compliance regulations may also require such documentation, whether it is used internally or externally.

In either case, an accountability chart can help demonstrate that a company has an organizational framework to meet its goals, objectives, and compliance with regulations.

When companies are looking to bring in investors or seeking financing, a functional accountability chart may be a necessary part of a business plan or prospectus.

How to Build a Basic Accountability Chart

At the core of creating an accountability chart, you need to provide the answers to three specific questions:

  1. What needs to get done?
  2. Who is going to do it?
  3. How does accountability flow to ensure things get done?

If you can answer these three questions, you will be well on your way. It may help to use an accountability chart template to develop your plan.

Accountability Chart - more detail

Accountability Chart DetailWhether you do or not, however, there are six steps you should follow to create and implement a basic accountability chart.

Step One: Define Roles

The best place to start is by defining the structure first without selecting team members for roles. This helps people to focus on tasks and not people.

Create an org chart with titles, job descriptions, or positions listed and show lines of authority to represent reporting relationships. Alternatively, you may decide to create an org chart based on departments, product lines, or projects.

Step Two: List Responsibilities

Within each box, list the top five or six responsibilities that each person is responsible for. Don’t be worried about creating more boxes than people, as individuals may occupy different boxes. You may need to create additional or different job descriptions based on your goals and objectives.

Step Three: Assign People

Only after you have completed the first two steps can you begin to plug in people’s names. There should only be one name in each box, but names may appear in several boxes.

Step Four: Evaluate & Optimize Your Structure

Evaluate your organizational structure. You may find some people have an overwhelming number of tasks or responsibilities. You may find gaps where nobody is responsible or accountable for certain tasks.

This is a good time to step back and evaluate whether you are asking too much of people, don’t have enough people, don’t have the right people on board, or need to provide additional training and coaching.

Optimizing your structure can be complex. Can you combine tasks and responsibilities that have previously been assigned to multiple people into a single role? Can you reorganize responsibilities to improve efficiency? Do you need separate roles to have a clear line of responsibility and authority?

Optimizing your plan will take careful thought and discussion.

Step Five: Roll Out Your Plan

Once you are comfortable that you have created an efficient accountability chart that will govern how your organization operates, it’s time to roll it out to the team.

Clear and consistent communication will be necessary to get buy-in. It’s important you articulate the reasons behind any changes. In other words, explain the why behind the what.

How you present the accountability chart will make a big difference in whether your plan is embraced or discarded.

According to McKinsey, 70% of change programs fail to achieve their goals. It’s not that the plans themselves were flawed, but that employee resistance to change and a lack of management support became roadblocks to success.

As with any change management program, create a clear communications plan which has its own set of responsibilities and accountability measures.

Step Six: Look to the Future

An accountability chart will help you plan for the future. As you identify areas where you need additional resources, it can outline a better job description as you seek to fill open spots.

As your business grows, an accountability chart also helps show you where you need to add resources. For example, when you reach a certain threshold of customers, you know you will need to add additional customer support services. Knowing this now can help with your budgeting and forecasting when you are developing new product lines.

This will also help you with succession planning to identify the pathway for development. It helps identify the skills and experience needed to move into leadership positions within the organization.

Strategies for Building Basic Accountability Charts

Jonathan Smith of EOS offers these tips to build effective accountability charts.

1. Collaborate and Set Deadlines

Building an accountability chart is a team project. Best practices would include involving departments and team members in designing your accountability chart to make sure you build a comprehensive plan. It also helps to get buy-in, especially if changes are needed to current operations.

Explain the goal, create the framework, and set deadlines for contributions.

2. Be Ready to Make Tough Decisions

How you divide responsibilities and accountability may not make everyone happy. You may wind up moving tasks or authority away from someone that doesn’t want to give it up or assigning it to someone that doesn’t want that role. That’s why it’s important to design by task and role and not people first.

Once you establish your needs, then you will need to plug in the people charged with carrying out your plan.

3. Realize People May Have Multiple Responsibilities

In many cases, people have multiple responsibilities across projects, especially in small companies or startups. It’s fine as long as everyone knows their responsibilities and who’s accountable for what, and team members aren’t overloaded with too many tasks.

4. Collaborate and Revise

You may need to go through multiple versions before you get it just right. Seek feedback to find gaps in planning and revise as needed.

5. Expect an Adjustment Period

Your final accountability chart may look very different from the way your organization has operated in the past. It may take time for people to adapt to a new approach. It can disrupt processes and systems that worked before the plan was implemented, but the long-term benefits will outweigh any short-term confusion.

6. Evolve as Your Organization Grows

Your structure will need to evolve as your company grows. As you bring on more employees, expand your customer base, and bring new products or services into the mix, it can make your accountability chart obsolete. Review your accountability chart regularly and adjust it to make sure you are ready to handle growth.

Functionly-icon: Let Functionly help!

One of the key ingredients of our intelligent org chart and work design tech solution at Functionly includes the ability to build an accountability chart for your own company.

Use the online tool to allocate the right accountabilities to the right leaders and teams, design future states in a collaborative and safe environment. Align people's responsibilities, map everything that gets done and see any gaps or overlaps at a glance.

Without the right structures and organizational setup, your company outcomes could be severely restricted. Get this right, and the whole organization can take off. 

Sound good? Why not try a free trial of Functionly today to get you started.

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Sources

  • The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution, G.L. Neilson, K. L. Martin & E. Powers, Harvard Business Review, June 2008
  • Changing change management, B. Ewenstein, W. Smith & A. Sologar, McKinsey & C0, 1 July 2015
  • Revisiting the matrix organization, M. Bazigos & J. Harter, McKinsey & C0, 1 Jan 2016
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act explained: Definition, purpose, and provisions, J. Fruhlinger, CSO Magazine, 30 Nov 2020
  • Also: EOSWorldwide.com, Scalingup.com

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