Learning & Development

What is the Accountability Gap?

What is an accountability gap, and why should HR leaders care about it? An accountability gap is a way to describe someone should be doing something, but they’re not being held accountable for doing it for one reason or another.

There can be accountability gaps for people, teams, or entire companies. When the leaders of an organization are not being held accountable to meet their objectives, the entire productivity and engagement of the workforce can be at risk.

Accountability gaps can happen when:

  • Someone knows they have a responsibility to do something but either doesn’t know how or simply doesn’t take the time to do it.
  • Someone takes an action that resembles what they need to do, but doesn’t actually achieve the goal. For example, they may track order problems, but not actually take steps to resolve them or address the root causes.
  • Everyone assumes someone else is responsible for a key issue, but no one actually is held responsible for its completion.
  • There are no consequences for not meeting goals and objectives.
  • Progress toward goals is not being measured.
  • Managers are reluctant to address shortfalls or problems with employees.
  • Someone gets promoted into a role they’re not ready for, and their superiors don’t address the issue.
  • Complaints don’t get handled in a timely and transparent way, which can lead to a perception of lack of accountability, even if it doesn’t exist.
  • There may not be a structure in place to measure performance, especially at more senior levels in the organization. There may be no recourse for someone who wants to give feedback about lack of leadership accountability.
  • Organizations do not provide the training and tools for individuals to do their jobs well, leading to situations where people feel they cannot perform well.
  • Individuals, especially some leaders, may have strong personalities that are difficult to challenge. This can make addressing accountability problems especially complex.

HR professionals should care about accountability gaps because they can lead to employee morale problems. When individuals are not being held to performance standards⁠—especially those in leadership positions⁠—it can create resentment. As such, if accountability gaps are noticeable within the organization, the HR team may want to consider discussing this with senior leadership.

The key to fixing the problem is to first identify that there is something that is not being accomplished. Figure out what needs to happen, who is or who should be responsible for it, and then implement or improve ways to actually ensure that it happens. Create checks and balances to ensure accountability. Over time, doing this will impact the organizational culture. It becomes a culture that supports keeping everyone accountable for their responsibilities. It starts with clearly defined goals, responsibilities, and ways to measure the same. The HR team can be instrumental in helping identify the problems and helping to design better goals and accountability.