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.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Your Leader's Biggest Challenge - EVER!!!

Getting that plane out of Schippol airport in Amsterdam is child's play compared to what's facing captains of corporations.

Look at who our leaders have been and what they've been doing for the last decade. They tend to be right brained, cause and effect, ROI people. The numbers guys. People who stare into their computers all day looking for revenue and margin. Need I mention the likes of Ken Lay, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lewis and countless others.

This wasn't always the case. Even up to the early 90's when I had an idea on how to improve the effectiveness of an organization people would say: "... yeah, but you'll never get it past the CFO." I'd say, "get me to the CEO and I'll sell it." And usually I did. The CEO understood that business was more than profits - it was about keeping the organization healthy and relevant.

Not so today. CEO's have morphed into the Senior-CFO. Employees and customers are trumped by the bottom line when it comes to business strategy and operations.

This has probably served business well in the past year. Protecting balance sheets, conserving cash, and cutting costs have been necessary to survive. Companies have cut themselves to temporary "profitability", but they can't cut themselves to sustainability. It's time for a new trick.

Leaders are facing two very big currents that could merge into a tsunami:
  • Customers: They're willing to forgive, but not to forget. They're standing at the ready to punish companies that flaunt excess - particularly in profits, executive compensation, and bonuses. They're looking to reward companies that show moral leadership and a willingness to sustain communities and the environment.
  • Employees: Employee commitment has never been so low. A recent report in The Economist showed that over the past two years it has fallen from over 95% to 39%. Equally disconcerting is that they are willing to stagnate on the job rather than move on. USA Today reported that almost 50% of employees are willing to wait more than a year to find a new job when they are dissatisfied.
This is quite a two punch for businesses trying to "turn things around." We have angry customers and disaffected employees. Wow! That's not a job for a Senior-CFO.

As we emerge from recession leaders will need to be strategic, visionary, and inspirational. Will they remember these skills? Did they ever have them? This is going to be fun.