Accountability, A Double-Edged Sword

When you align the plans of your business so that they are properly translated, you have now given your frontline leaders better tools and expectations to manage against.

CEOs that I speak with who strive for accountability are drawn to this concept. Their financial plan is properly translated, now the leaders know what is expected of them and their people.

But don’t expect all of your leaders to use this newfound accountability in a positive way.

Here’s a story to illustrate my point. I was the Vice-President of Operations for a company and I loved accountability. I thought it was the answer to performance improvement in organizations.

I would go around to the three plants that I was responsible for every day and follow up on the key performance indicators of the business, ensuring there were action plans for indicators that were not meeting the plan.

There was a Plant Manager who reported into me, who was responsible for purchasing material. One day my inventory manager came to me and said ‘I think we have a problem. The amount of material that we’re buying versus what is going into finished goods inventory doesn’t add up.  There is 5% that is missing…’

After exhausting all possible explanations, I resorted to reviewing the back-up tapes of the company (for those that remember those days!)  What I could see from the information on the backup tapes was that the numbers in the spreadsheets were changing every day as the Plant Manager was trying to manipulate the scrap rate.

My first reaction was anger. I felt that I had been wronged and that he had wronged the company. It wasn’t until four or five years later that I realized my role in not creating an environment where he felt that it was safe enough to ask for help.

Metrics and data should be used as information to make better decisions, not as a means to motivate employees.  Managers roles should be to help their employees win, not beat them up when they lose.

So be warned: accountability  if it is not used properly, can actually be a double-edged sword and create misalignment in your organization.

Lesson Learned #1