Accountability: Overcoming Low Accountability Thresholds, Part 1

Published on: December 1, 2013

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Part 1 of 2

Take a moment to consider these questions:

  • How good are you at holding people accountable?
  • How willing are you to hold people accountable?
  • How willing are you to hold people accountable for doing what they said they would do?

As leaders, ministers, board members and key team members, we all come into contact with those persons who exhibit low accountability thresholds. Maybe we even have or exhibit a few of them ourselves—if we are honest and willing to look, see, and tell the truth about how we show up. Accountability issues reveal themselves in some fashion in the following ways (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Always late (having multiple reasons)
  • Projects not completed on time (with many excuses; usually someone else’s fault)
  • Disorganized (not getting assignments in on time, continually requesting that items be re-sent to them)
  • Unprepared (didn’t have time to read the minutes, do the assignment)
  • Working on personal things in the midst of meetings (email, texting, surfing Facebook, personal projects)
  • Hostage-taking behaviors in meetings/classes (providing too much information, too many personal stories, questions asked that don’t pertain to the subject)
  • Holding side conversations (in the midst of meetings and classes)
  • Not showing up (for classes, meetings or events, when they said they would)
  • Not doing what they said they would do
  • Continual excuses

The question really isn’t whether low accountability thresholds exist in your ministry. The question is how effective you are at holding people accountable for their actions and doing what they said they would do. Do you know what actions to take in order to support accountability? Often, low threshold accountability issues arise because people don’t know what do in order to support accountability.

For the sake of this article, we will discuss two types of accountability thresholds:

1. Job accountability
2. Accountability as a general factor in being present to others and to a group or team

Job accountability: All positions within a ministry need a written job description. How else does a person know what is required to get the job entitled ________ done and done effectively? Often boards and managers believe that if there is a job description, that is all that is required to get the work done. Not so! Job descriptions set forth responsibilities; an accountability document takes those responsibilities and identifies parameters of success that are measurable around the elements of responsibility (see example below). Thus, fair and objective data is created that is useful during an annual evaluation.

Additionally, an accountability document enhances communication, as it allows each staff member or volunteer to understand the full scope of his/her position and can assist in improved training for each position. The following is a simple, yet clarifying, definition for differences between responsibility and accountability, with examples.

Responsibility: The elements of the job description that one is responsible for doing, managing, or overseeing their completion.

Example: To assure open and consistent communication in a cross-functional team effort, the minister is to hold and attend staff meetings on a regular basis.

Accountability: Accountabilities are the “Did you do it? Yes or no” aspect of a job description. All appropriate elements contained within the job description are translated into a measurable that can be used for objective data collection.

Example: Minister must hold a minimum of 12 meetings per year.

This is measurable data from which the question can be asked: Was it completed, yes or no?

Accountabilities Example

A job description outlines what the person is responsible for; accountabilities define the measurable expectations required within those responsibilities. Accountabilities assure that the annual evaluation is based not only on subjective responsibilities, but also on clear and objective data. e.g., did the person do what was required for the job responsibility, conduct Sunday services, but also, did they conduct (40) Sunday services per year; yes or no? A measurable brings clarity to responsibilities.

Role: Sunday Speaker

Accountability: Conducts __ Sunday services per year

Role: Staff Coach and Manager

Accountability: Facilitates a minimum of __  monthly staff meetings
Accountability: Facilitates a minimum of __  individual meetings with staff
Accountability: Attends a minimum of  __ (Youth Ed/Volunteer) meetings

Role: Communications Manager and Website Liaison

Accountability: Assures that __ community newsletters are received by community
Accountability: Assures that website is updated monthly

Role: Fiscal Responsibility/Budget

Accountability: Assures that ministry and staff expenditures remain within the confines of budgetary allotment

Role: Social Event Host

Accountability: Attends ___% of all social events, including birthday dinners, monthly potlucks, concerts, picnics and special events

Role: Special Events Consultant

Accountability: Creates, plans and facilitates a minimum of ____  holiday services

Role: Adult Education Teacher

Accountability: Facilitates a minimum of ___  spiritually enriching classes and workshops, including the new member class

Role: Leadership & Organizational Development Facilitator

Accountability: Assures and/or designs a minimum of __ leadership team trainings per year
Accountability: Assures a minimum of __ board retreat(s) is (are) held annually.
Accountability: Creates ___ small group opportunities focused on building community

Role: Fall Program Liaison

Accountability: Assures the creation of a Fall program that supports the community

Role: Prayer Chaplain Liaison

Accountability: Offers a minimum of __  support and training sessions for prayer  chaplains


Read Part 2

Toni G. Boehm
Peace and Transitional Ministry Support Consultant at Unity Worldwide Ministries

Rev Toni G Boehm, PhD, is Ministry Skills & Transition Ministry Support Coordinator for UWM. She has supported nearly 300 Unity boards and ministries in leadership skill development. She is the 2017 recipient of the Charles Fillmore Award for visionary leadership.

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