Purpose: to analyse the ability and skill of the one enforcing accountability.
Design/methodology/approach: Knowing how to hold to account is viewed from a perspective of knowing as situated accomplished action. The empirical case consists of Nordic investors who seek to hold companies accountable for their social and environmental performance.
Findings: The study finds that holding to account consists of distributed knowing and delegated activities. To coordinate the activities accountability relationships within the holding to account practice develops. Apart from internal relationships and the relationship to the accountable, knowing how to hold to account consists of demonstrating authority and successful practice in situations with important others, such as organizational colleagues, competitors and media. When face-to-face with the accountable, the appropriation of a customised and generalizable vocabulary helps the actors distance discussions from the expertise of the accountable, and facilitates the reorganization of business contexts so that their experiences are ‘transferable’ across these contexts.
Research implications: A depiction of accountability relationships as involving solely the accountable and the one holding to account is too simplistic. As in the present case, the practice of holding to account may include coordinated, multiple actors, even from separate organizations. Rather than focusing on individuals, the study promotes a focus on situations and the actors found therein as the circumstances of the situations will affect any outcome.
Originality/value: The study focuses on the practice of enforcing accountability, a know how that is often taken for granted, although earlier studies have indicated that such practice is not always successful.