Accountable vs. Responsible


When is the last time you used a RACI chart in order to articulate who was accountable vs. responsible to ensure work got done? I know people who live by RACIs (me!) and others who absolutely hate them (my previous boss!)

A RACI defines who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted or Informed for work that needs to be done on an ongoing basis.  In retail, these are commonly referred to as DORs, or Divisions of Responsibility.  Whatever you call them doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the team is clear on who is doing what and that ultimately, they understand the “why”.  Why is it important to clearly define who is doing what?  Without it, it is chaos.  Role clarity drives consistency and consistency drives positive experiences for both the associate and the customer.  

I want to reiterate why understanding the difference between accountable vs. responsible is so important. Have you ever used the word “responsible” when you meant “accountable” or vice verse? The words accountable and responsible are often used interchangeably. This post should clarify the differences so that you can hold your team accountable for work they are responsible for completing!

How do I tell the Difference between Accountable and Responsible?

The easiest way to think about the difference between being accountable and being responsible is that responsibility can be shared while accountability cannot. 

I hate this term but it clearly describes the difference…when you are accountable, you are the single throat to choke or said in a more positive way, the “single hand to shake” although now with COVID19, we can’t even shake hands, but you get the gist, right?

The Definitions of Accountable and Responsible

Accountability:  One person has the liability or expectation that a task is completed (correctly / to standard).

Responsibility:  Refers to someone being in charge of a task or an event.

Running a store or showroom includes many tasks and activities that need to be completed.  As we think about Roles and Responsibilities within our retail stores, it is important to understand the differences between accountable and responsible.  By clearly understanding the differences, the store will operate more effectively.

An Example of Accountable and Responsible

Let’s say a manager is accountable for ensuring the store is properly closed at the end of their shift.  This includes closing the POS, straightening the store, filling in merchandise, taking out the trash and sweeping.  Now they may not be responsible for completing all of these tasks. But if they aren’t completed, they are accountable for the impact it has on the opening manager and the next day’s sales and customer experience.  

Now, of all these closing activities, the trash wasn’t dumped and the store wasn’t swept.  When the store manager comes in the next day, they see that two things were missed.  They ask the closing manager what happened and why the closing procedure wasn’t followed.  What is the store manager doing? Holding the manager accountable for their performance.  Now the manager might have a completely legitimate reason that the tasks weren’t completed.  The point is, the store manager is creating an environment of accountability and excellence by following up.

How to Address Mis-steps in Performance

In retail, it is easy to see misunderstandings between accountable vs. responsible with your team’s assigned DOR’s, or Divisions of Responsibility. The most common mistakes are:
– Manager (who owns the DOR) does all the work themselves (thinking they are responsible for every task) instead of delegating and following up, holding people accountable for their performance.
– Or the other extreme, the manager delegates everything and doesn’t actually do any of the work and tasks remain incomplete. Extremes are never good.

The good news is this is easy to fix.  Open communication with the leadership team is the best way to start.

Here are the steps to follow:

  • Have a meeting with your management team to discuss role clarity before heading into the busy holiday season
  • Give the team a heads up on what the purpose of the meeting is and what they need to come prepared to discuss
  • Kick off the meeting by creating safety so the team feels comfortable being honest with where they are struggling  
  • Discuss (as a group) what you can do to help one another
  • Align on steps to take 
  • Establish follow up mechanisms 

It’s your Turn

With the changes that have been happening in retail this year, one thing is certain. If there is a lack of role clarity within your store, district, region or company, now is the time to drive clarity!  Christmas is in just 80 days.  While we don’t know what the holiday will look like inside brick and mortar locations, one thing we do know.  Good customer experiences are more important than ever and they start with teams who understand their roles and responsibilities and work together to create seamless experiences. 

In your Corner,


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