Accountability LO17420

Fred Nickols (
Sun, 15 Mar 1998 11:21:00 +0000

I have a client organization where calls for accountability can be heard
on a regular basis. The calls emanate from the upper reaches of the
company and sound like this: "They're not accountable." "They need to be
accountable." "There's no accountability around here." "We need better

In short, senior executives are lamenting the lack of accountability below
their level.

To me, accountability has a very simple structure:

Person A answers to Person B for Result C.

Said a little differently, Person B "accounts" to Person A for Result C.

Now it is the case in this organization that people are accountable. They
all hold each other accountable for various results. Moreover, I believe
this is always the case in all organizations. Plainly put, there is no
such thing as a complete lack of accountability because organizations, as
social systems, simply could not function without some degree of
accountability. Absent any kind of accountability, organizations

It is also the case that what people currently answer for is not what
senior management wants them to answer for. People currently answer to
each other for their general behavior and performance. Senior management
wants to institute accountability regarding financial performance, to
start holding people's feet to the fire for meeting budgets and for
hitting profit targets. (Personally, I think this organization is more in
need of operational accountability but that's another story.)

The whole thing has a flavor of carrot-and-stick management about it.
Worse, the variations in financial performance owe chiefly to actions
taken by the senior executives, not mismanagement or poor management at
lower levels. As one consequence, many people view the calls for
accountability as a smoke screen, as a diversion intended to draw
attention away from senior executive responsibility for financial
performance. (There have been no calls that say, "We need to be

In any event, as a practical matter, it seems to me that if accountability
is to be viable, certain basic factors must be addressed. For example:

o the result or condition for which one person is to answer to
another must be specified

o the designation of accountability (the person who is to be held
accountable must know the condition for which he or she is being
held accountable, that he or she is in fact being held accountable
for it, and by whom)

o the delegation of operating authority (the person who is to be
held accountable must be able to act with respect to the factors
that affect the condition for which he or she is being held

o the designation of reporting authority (the person who is to hold
the other one accountable must have the authority to do so)

o some larger, hierarchical framework of expected results, into which
individual accountabilities fit and from which they might be derived

o alignment of the organization's formal and informal sanctioning
systems with the larger, hierarchical framework of expected or
required results and purposes (these sanctioning systems include
pay, appraisal, promotions, assignments, etc.).

Are there other conditions, other prerequisites for making accountability


Fred Nickols
The Distance Consulting Company


Fred Nickols <>

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