Accountability and transparency are hot topics today, and rightly so…Given this new found popularity, I felt that a piece delving into the topic of accountability would be both prudent and timely. Frankly, considering what the lack of accountability has done to our nation’s economy and political structure we should all be spending more time on the topic. However the truth is that few people really like to hear the “A” word applied to their individual circumstances, choices, decisions, and performance. Regrettably, this is precisely why we are embroiled with many of the daunting challenges facing our country today. Nothing keeps personal and corporate train wrecks from occurring more than a solid framework of accountability. In today’s post I’ll examine the many reasons for why accountability should matter to all of us…
Regardless of where you are in the corporate hierarchy, accountability is a fundamental principle associated with success. Administrative and support staff needs to be accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work. Sales people need to be accountable for not only production volume, but also the manner in which they represent the company brand while attaining said volume. Management needs to be accountable to their subordinates, as well as to executive leadership. Executives need to be accountable for their quality of leadership and decision making, and as we discussed yesterday, board members need to be accountable to shareholders. I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t also take a moment to remind politicians that they are accountable to their constituents.
Accountability is the lowest cost, most practical, and most productive form of risk management and quality assurance that can be implemented across an enterprise. It is really nothing more than a common sense understanding that decisions made within a framework are going to have a greater chance of success than those made in a vacuum. Decisioning options vetted in the full light of public view will by default go a long way toward the prevention of self-dealing.
It is those individuals or organizations who don’t believe they are accountable to anyone, for anything, or at anytime that are nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. All human beings, regardless of who they are, can be capable of making huge mistakes when operating in a vacuum or under a veil of secrecy. While there are certainly those individuals who are just predatory, bad to the bone people, clearly not everyone who makes a mistake is evil with the intent to do harm to others. Rather many people when faced with a tough situation simply were not operating in an accountable manner, and therefore made a decision that they would not have likely made if they were openly operating under the scrutiny and review of others.
All one has to do is to just pay attention to the recent headlines to understand the critical importance of, and need for accountability. I truly believe that if most of the public figures falling prey to bad decisions of late had been operating in the open light of day, and had they sought counsel in their decision making, that the outcomes of their recent debacles may have been quite different. If you think back to any of the bad and/or regrettable decisions you’ve made in your life, it is highly probable that you didn’t seek the counsel of others (or ignored said counsel) prior to making the wrong decision. Setting up an enterprise wide framework for accountability is as simple as implementing the following five items:
1. Have a clearly articulated statement of corporate values: Not only state the values that you want the entity to use as a foundation for operation, but also use the values to frame your vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and processes. Hire and manage based upon the corporate values. If you hire someone who doesn’t share the corporate values, or don’t hold existing employees accountable for maintaining the corporate values, then you will get what you deserve.
2. Have a written delegation of authority: A written guideline for corporate decisioning will help individuals make good decisions. Describe in great detail which employees are authorized to make what decisions. Establish budgetary and approval guidelines for all decisions, making sure that good checks and balances are in place to help keep employees accountable.
3. Implement a good leadership development program: Utilizing training, coaching, mentoring, peer review, talent management, and other development best practices will help insure that your leaders will continue to grow, and that corporate accountability guidelines are being consistently reinforced.
4. Active Oversight: Engaged management oversight is key to preventing poor decisioning. It is fairly easy to course correct if you’re only a few degrees off course for a short period of time. However, if allowed to wander far astray for great lengths of time, it may be virtually impossible to prevent a disaster. All small problems can be dealt with. However the bigger the problem, and the longer it has been allowed to fester, the more difficult and costly the solution (if there is a solution) will be.
5. Compensatory Penalties: Those individuals who believe they are substantially at risk for poor decisioning will simply make fewer bad choices. Fines, liquidated or punitive damages, compensation forfeiture, restitution, and/or termination will keep most people on the right side of the line.
The bottom line is that individuals, teams, business units, divisions and corporations will be better off when a culture of accountability is adopted. Don’t run from accountability; rather embrace it as a way to manage personal and professional risk.
Related Post: “Rogue CEOs & Board Accountability“