Who Will Do What by When?

“Accountability is forward looking.” – Richard Kirchhoff

Unlocking the value in your organization requires accountability at all levels. Like in the National Football League, everyone must do his/her job. As problems are identified, actions need to be assigned and completed. There are three critical questions that make accountability for these actions far more robust: who will do what by when?


When assigning a task, “who” is always singular. This is called the Single Point of Accountability, (SPA). It’s typical to hear that everyone is responsible for safety, but the intent is usually to say that everyone is responsible for following the safety procedures, for working in a safe manner, and for making safety their priority in making decisions and taking actions. However, when you talk about who is responsible for ensuring that everyone is following and writing procedures, identifying hazards, documenting and eliminating, that needs to be one single person.

The single accountable person may not physically complete the task, but s/he is responsible for making sure the task is completed and delivering the desired result. If actions are assigned to a team, group, or even two people, then who is responsible if the task is not done? Most on the team will point to others, and even when only two are involved, it is too easy to suggest the other did not deliver.

Will Do What

Tasks need to be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

They need to have a verifiable verb. Words like “look into,” “investigate,” and “review” are not as effective as “report on the direct cause,” “document the top five complaints,” or “create a Pareto of equipment downtime causes.”

By When

When needs to be a specific date in the not too distant future. If an action has a date over two weeks away, it is typically because the task is too broad. Breaking it down into smaller steps helps in two important ways. First, it helps signal if the task is on track. Knowing the first of a series of tasks is completed projects confidence that the overall task will be completed on time. Second, solutions are rarely linear. Breaking them into smaller tasks allows for adjustment toward the final solution. For example; a task like “Order two way radios for the entire shop with a date of three weeks” would be better written as “Determine the number of radios needed; tomorrow, get a quote for radios based on count; In two days, place purchase order for radios.” All of these tasks can be tracked and adjusted based on the count and quote, and the actual receipt of the radios will be better understood.

Assign tasks in your organization with single points of accountability given specific tasks that are simple, measurable, achievable, resourced, and timely, and with a specific date in the not too distant future. 

Remember, if you say the following, “The team will investigate opportunities for future business on a date to be determined,” it will never happen.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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