Monday, October 26, 2009

Accountability ... barrier to recovery

Let' boot this trite use of the term "accountability." We use it whenever we don't have an answer. It's going to get in the way of the serious business of recovery - the NEW business as usual.

The starting point is to define the term. Accountability is something that I extract from someone. In a management sense it is the converse of delegation. In effect, I delegate some of my power to get something done that is my responsibility. For example: "Please complete your report by Friday afternoon and have it on my desk."

Delegation is not easy. It requires you that you break down your duties into chewable chunks so you can hand then off to others. It also means that you have a way to recognize how well these parcels of work are being done: is the report on your desk and does it have the required content.

I now have everything I need for accountability. A clear delegation downward and an equally clear specification of upward expectations - the measures. I can now hold you accountable. Did you get my work done in the way that was agreed. Accountability is purely my job. It's right brained, analytic, cause and effect management. It's me and you with the emphasis on ME.

We need accountability. Likely 80% of what goes on in organizations can be put within an accountability chain. But accountability alone isn't going to lift us to recovery. We've been in risk adverse accountability mode for more than a year. We've protected balance sheets and held onto cash. But this type of thinking won't get us moving again.

Businesses that pull away over the next year will be those that find the white space needed to grow. This will happen because people are empowered. They will not need delegated power from the organization. They will use their own power to "do what's right."

I know this concept of people acting on their own scares businesses: "...we just can't have people running around doing what they think is right - we need empowerment within established guidelines." Oh, really? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

Well if you can't trust people to "just run around", what keeps them in check? Responsibility, that's what. Responsibility is a personal issue. It's not about the organization telling, it's about the employee doing and doing "what's right" because the organization has imbued them with a strong sense of values.

When I hear managers complain that "... there's no accountability around here anymore", usually they mean "responsibility." What they're saying is that people make commitments and then don't follow through, or they act as bureaucrats without using common sense.

When that happens, managers are really complaining about themselves. They know they have not embedded values based leadership. They know that to get anything done they have to micro-manage. They need to constantly work hard at delegating and extracting accountability.

This type of behavior isn't going to get business where it needs to go. It's time that our leaders understood "empowerment" and trusted employees to be responsible. Yes, there will be mistakes, but deal with irresponsible behavior on a one-to-one bases, not an organizational one.

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