Bring Clarity to Accountability: Helping people understand the job expectations and what it takes to succeed.

I often hear leaders say: “No one on my team does what they’re supposed to be doing.” Or, “I’m so frustrated because I have to do it all.” Sound familiar? These phrases are an indicator that there might be a lack of clarity and communication about the role expectations and success factors in your organization.

While you may have job descriptions, ask yourself:

  • Do they outline the priorities for the job? Or are they a laundry list of potential work?
  • Do they clearly state how success is measured?
  • Are they specific in the expectations or are they filled with generic jargon?

If the answer to any (or all) of these questions is maybe, sort of, or a flat-out no, then it’s time to make the move to a key accountabilities matrix for each role. This type of matrix sets clear expectations for the actions to be taken, defines success for those expectations, and identifies the actions with the greatest priority.

To set your company up for success, you need to first set up your people for success. Here are 3 essential factors for an effective key accountabilities matrix:

1 – Get Curious

While you may be the CEO, you don’t know the daily details of each role in your organization.  Don’t create key accountabilities in a vacuum. Enlist your best and brightest—people who are already performing well in the role—to be part of creating the matrix document. Use this opportunity to brainstorm all possible expectations for the role.  

Get curious about whether all of the current expectations truly make sense or just “fell into someone’s lap” because another person left or the business grew. You may discover that you have more expectations than one role can take on or that the work could be completed by someone at an entry-level instead of with advanced degrees or years of experience.  Consider shifting for both cost-efficiency and impact. In the words of Gino Wickman, you have to delegate and elevate everybody, and that’s what the key accountabilities do. 

There will be tough decisions to make regarding success factors, priorities, and even what things are truly expectations for that role instead of another. Be open to the needs of the role and the organization. 

2 – Focus On “What,” Not “How”

Unlike a job description, a key accountabilities matrix is more than just a generic laundry list often filled with buzzwords. Key accountabilities are about action. While certain tasks require details on the “how,” save those details for process and procedure documents. By focusing on “what,” you create greater clarity on the actions for each role.  Consider broad categories of work inside the role. For example, a manager’s role might include both customer experience and employee experience. Within these categories, the manager needs to take action:

Customer Experience:

  • Resolve escalated client issues
  • Look for customer trends and gather customer feedback to uncover new sales/service opportunities

Employee experience:

  • Interpret and communicate overall organizational goals and apply them to team directives
  • Build, develop, mentor and coach team
  • Facilitate regular one-on-one feedback meetings with team

More than just a list of actions, key accountability matrices articulate which accountability is the highest priority and how much time it should take to successfully complete each area of accountability.  Hold people accountable for the outcomes in a measurable way

3 – Help People Earn an “A” on the Job

We’ve all seen job descriptions that say things like, “demonstrate excellence in advancing business initiatives.” The lack of clarity makes it impossible to know if the goal has been achieved. Make the success factors so clear that employees know throughout the process when they are succeeding and when they are falling short.  Instead of having a job description and then a “Gotcha!” moment when someone finds out they’ve failed, embrace Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge’s concept in the book “Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called ‘Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.’” 

With this in mind, key accountability matrices become more than the expectations/success factors for the role, they become the performance management system.  With this objective baseline, you can document success and create plans for improvement. 

Key accountabilities aren’t one-size-fits-all. 

While many of the organizations I work with have the same jobs, each organization’s key accountabilities will look different according to its unique mission and values. When considering your key accountability matrices incorporate your company culture, its core values, vision and mission.


Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge, Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A” (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Group, 2009).

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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.