What is Enough Accountability?

Yesterday, I wrote on the the question, “What is Enough?” As I was walking with my wife among the wild peppermint and bee balm hearing our bees industriously gathering pollen around us, I realized there are many other viewpoints from which to consider this question.

As I sat back at my desk to write, I remembered a conversation I had with someone who works with leaders of large corporations. I said, “I believe it’s vital to strive to absolute accountability within businesses.” He pushed back saying, “That is too much. People will become disillusioned if you set the standard too high. We should be satisfied with improvement over the current state.”

What is enough accountability? Over the past few days, I have read comments from Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, about the $2B trading loss they incurred. Today several people who were directly responsible for the loss resigned. This is a typical outcome when something big goes wrong. A few people get the ax and the beat goes on.

What about the people who are accountable for the business culture that fostered this situation? What about the board of directors, who have oversight accountability? They all seem to be saying, “OK, we made errors, let’s learn from them and move on.” I’m not certain that real learning is possible unless everyone who is accountable has a consequence. I’m not suggesting that a bunch of people be fired. What I’m saying is that there should be a consequence that is public and clear.

I know when my young boys act in a way that is inconsistent with our agreements, they experience a consequence. They might lose access to television or treats for a period of time. I know if I don’t apply a consequence immediately and uniformly, they don’t learn.

Accountability is absolute. We are either accountable for what happens, or we are not. I know if someone is being accountable if there is a consequence for their accountability. This isn’t a matter of blame. It’s simply an outcome that is directly connected to accountability.

My accountability to you as readers is to write what I feel is true and do it when I promise. If I don’t do that, I’m not going to be punished. There is a consequence. It’s lowered trust, which may mean you tune out. On the other hand, if I do what I promise, trust increases and the number of readers grows. It’s really simple.

Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

1 thought on “What is Enough Accountability?”

  1. Yes, accountability seems to be an all or nothing thing because of the consequence factor. If there is no consequence, that is a signal to the ego that “I can do this again.” I agree that firing, in the business context, is not the only consequence possible but SOMETHING needs to happen to signal the lack of accountability. Otherwise, a culture can go downhill very fast. In the 60’s, I worked for a large management consulting company (Peat, Marwick ,Mitchell) and our biggest competitor, Arthur Anderson, was known for its squeaky clean, ethical corporate culture. Look at what happened to that culture…..which produced an Enron.

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