Accountability: Where does the buck stop in your organization?

Accountability. It’s a word that has been used a lot in the last two weeks following the abuse allegations from former assistant coach Sandusky at Penn State.

As more details are revealed, a number of leaders at Penn State are being faced with legal and media inquiries.  At the time of this article 4 employees have either resigned or have terminated due to the Sandusky allegations.

Coach Joe Paterno is perhaps the figure who has received the most media attention following his termination late last week. According to the timeline, Paterno was informed by then grad student Mike McQueary that Sandusky had been observed engaging in inappropriate behavior in the locker room with a young boy.

Questions continue to surface investigating how concerns of this significant nature remained under the radar and furthermore, never brought a formal investigation or possible disciplinary action.  Reports were allegedly made, and with that, management responsibility had been fulfilled.  Therein lies the problem.

Fingers are pointing across the organization with each claiming he or she fulfilled their obligation. However, the problem was not addressed which allowed it to continue and has resulted to the media frenzy and legal drama we are experiencing now – not to mentioned a number of now young adults caught in the cross-fire.

Before we so easily sit back and judge the individuals involved in this situation, I believe it is important to admit that this scenario is possible in any organization.  While the criminal allegations involved at Penn State are egregious, the lack of accountability is possible anywhere if not kept in check.

The following three principles are important to follow tenaciously in any organization. How does yours measure up?

#1  Ownership has legs and feet…and a name.
Every player on your team owns something. And he or she has the opportunity to be rewarded or face the consequences based on the performance of the tasks he/she is responsible for.  It is a given that your company must create a great product or service. However, the secret weapon to create or deliver that service lies in the people and processes who create those goods and services. The ability of your team to execute well its operational processes and new idea generation is the real driver of your success. What does that mean? Succinct and attainable goals are set for every endeavor. Clear roles and responsibilities are understood by all involved. Milestones are an integral part of momentum and progress. And an agreed-upon process is in place to address performance issues with the task owners within your team.

#2  Who dropped the ball? is not the first question we ask when things go wrong.
Unfortunately this question is rarely asked in private. It typically surfaces in a meeting as participants move to their battle positions (figuratively and perhaps literally) and commence to finger-pointing. The truth is, clearly defined roles and responsibilities along with a clear project plan will prevent the firing range scenario that often occurs. Mistakes will be made (we’re human) but monitoring a project with regular status updates will create a dynamic that ensures each player is doing his or her part. And when they don’t, it can be addressed, corrected and moved on.

#3 Problem solving addresses root causes not symptoms.
What are symptoms? They are the workplace issues we continue to tackle time and time again but never really solve. How do you know what they are? They keep recurring. It may be a system error that we continue to band-aid instead of completely fix.  Or they have names in your organization. They are the individuals others describe as, “Well, that’s just Larry. He’s been here 20 years and he’ll probably never change.” Yet Larry remains gainfully employed. My apologies to the “Larry’s” of the world.  We needed an example!  Specific problem behavior must be addressed. Provide the tools and resources to help the individual improve. But you must draw a line in the sand. If the aptitude or attitude is insufficient, you must make the difficult decision. Symptoms rarely improve. In fact, they typically create bigger problems.

I wonder how well these three principles are defined at Penn State? I suspect they are being discussed in one way or another with rigor as this investigation continues.

Perhaps as you are reading this article you realize this is a gap in your organization’s leadership execution. You are not alone. Accountability is one of the toughest disciplines to define and sustain for most companies. These three principles are the starting point but the truth is, a whole paradigm shift is required to truly create a culture of accountability.

And we can help. Our workshop, “Stop Passing the Buck! Using Accountability that Creates Results” can help you create an organization that effectively deals with the finger pointing that typically takes place when something goes wrong. Give us a shout if you would like to chat more about improving this discipline and skill with your team.

The world waits to see what the outcome will be for Sedusky and the others involved in this case. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to learn from this incident. After all, doesn’t everyone want to control how and why their company ends up in the headlines? I’m sure Penn State would.

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