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.

One 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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