Accountability: Can you deliver on your promises?

Want to build your reputation as someone others can count on? Accountability is your key says Carolyn Taylor.

Being a person of your word – whose word can be trusted – is an excellent way of building trust and a reputation as someone others what to work with. The word accountability can so easily be expanded to introduce two key sentences which summarise what it is all about: 

‘Can I count on you?’

‘Yes, you can count on me’. 

Accountability is a relationship between two people; one person, the `giver’, delivering something to another, the ‘asker’. We all play the giver role and the asker role on different occasions, with customers, with our colleagues, our boss, our friends and family.

Both roles require skill, and the combined skill of both determines the likelihood that the ‘contract’ is fulfilled and the asker receives what they wanted from the giver.

Today many organisations are building more empowering and agile ways of working. Working from home this last year has removed the possibility of looking over each other’s shoulders to check up on whether work is being done.

It may be true that the pharmaceutical companies will have difficulty manufacturing and delivering the vaccines, and so the accountable politician does not make unwise promises

Lockdown demands a rethink on what it means to be accountable and to hold others to account. It is a wonderful moment to demonstrate that you are someone who gives and keeps your word. Reliability helps others to trust you, and trustworthiness builds your reputation.

Givers who deliver, consistently and reliably, are trusted, turned to, promoted, and offered repeat business by their customers. Organisations who keep their promises to shareholders, the community, employees and customers score highly on ESG (Environmental Social Governance) measures and reputation indexes.

In some organisations this way of working is firmly embedded in the culture. In others, it is not, and individuals who keep their word stand out from the pack.

Building such a reputation requires a mindset based on the core value of honour: ‘my word is my bond’. When I say I will do something, the people to whom I gave my word can be absolutely confident I will do it. We all know a few people with whom we know this to be true. But we probably know many others with whom we cannot be so confident.

Those who do it make it look easy, but it requires discipline and skill. It requires giving your word wisely, not overpromising in an effort to please others.

It requires becoming extremely good at anticipating and mitigating risk, because for every promise given, there are risks that could disrupt its fulfilment. It requires prioritisation – and a relationship with your askers in which you are willing to speak up, and find the best way together to deliver what they want.


Those who do not routinely keep their word will usually have a reason each time. A justification: something or someone to blame which is outside of themselves. These reasons will usually have some truth – if you choose to view the world that way.

Yet somehow those who consistently keep their word find ways to anticipate and work through these reasons, rather than settling for using them as an explanation. It may be true that your competitor’s product has some advantages over yours, but the accountable person finds a way to accentuate their own benefits in a way that means they still make the sale.

It may be that traffic was bad and so you were late, but the accountable person plans their day so as to take into account possible traffic. It may be true that the pharmaceutical companies will have difficulty manufacturing and delivering the vaccines, and so the accountable politician does not make unwise promises. 

Getting stuck in the justification as to why you could not deliver, even if that justification is founded in truth, leaves you with nowhere to go if you want to build a reputation for being reliable. If you want to be known as someone who always keeps your promises, you have to start with a different lens on the world. That lens can be accessed by using the word ‘given’:

  • Given the traffic is often bad, what can I do to ensure I am still on time?
  • Given there is a lot of unknowns in the manufacture and distribution of the vaccines, what is a wise promise the politician can make? (Or perhaps he or she should only offer to provide his or her very best effort).
  • Given your competition has some advantages, what can you do to counteract those in your customer’s eyes?
  • Given [whatever unfortunate circumstance may arise] what can you do to anticipate and mitigate risks in a way that you are still able to keep your word?

This is the lens through which the accountable person chooses to see the world. It does require a mental discipline, because the world around us is filled with people who blame outside circumstances for why they could not deliver.  Such thinking can become a habit within a team or the culture of an organisation. Which is why those who chose the more accountable path stand out.

Accountability contains within it the idea that you can be counted on. Make your promises wisely, anticipate and plan for what could stand in your way, do not settle for justifications, even if they are true and above all, make the decision that you will be a woman, or man, of your word. Reputation will follow, and all of the benefits bestowed on those who are trustworthy. 


About the author

Carolyn Taylor is a culture change expert and the author of Accountability@work which is to be published on 22 April 2021. Find out more at



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