One of the greatest struggles in organizational life is accountability: accountability between boards and executives, bosses to their subordinates, team members within the scope of their project, government oversight or regulation, legal compliance. In the non-profit world, one could add accountability relative to donors and volunteers – an accountability that flows in both directions.
Groups often struggle with accountability because it is often implemented heavy-handedly or only in the most extreme circumstances, long after all amicable options are no longer available. Groups also struggle with accountability because people often assume either the best or the worst in others to begin with. The truth is, though, that all of us are a mix of motivations and desires, some beneficial to ourselves and others, some not. Moreover, most people tend to attribute purer motives to themselves than to others, and justify their own behaviors more than others would justify them.
These struggles point to the need, not only to maintain good accountability, but to do accountability well. The need for accountability goes far beyond avoiding unnecessary legal entanglements (criminal or civil), and far beyond making sure the organization maintains some level of goodwill with respect to its stakeholders, customer base, and so on. Accountability, when done well, allows for the organization to keep its word: to set goals and to keep them, and therefore maintain healthy pursuit of its purpose for the duration of its life cycle.
Many enterprises still do not choose accountability because the results they are getting are good enough for the time being as to not want to change how things operate. Many can operate for many years in this mode. Nevertheless, it can be very risky: the lack of accountability leaves blind-spot weaknesses that can wreak havoc unexpectedly. Good steward leaders know that accountability builds long-term health and sustainability.
How does your organization, business, non-profit, church or local government handle accountability?
Interested in more about organizational governance and accountability? Check out our article on Independence of Non-Profit Directors.