I was thinking about accountability today, probably on the back of having just completed my annual accounts and tax return – although I have to admit I’d never twigged that the words accounts and accountability were two peas from the same pod (I know…I know…)!
But more so because my accountant, aka my super hero, had asked me to sign a waiver saying that while she had done all the donkey work, at the end of the day I’d be the one responsible if there was an error and the tax man came knocking. In other words I would be ‘to blame’…because I guess that’s what accountability is really all about isn’t it…who’s to blame, who’s answerable, who’s liable?
Mistakes don’t seem to happen these days…or rather few seem willing to accept that mistakes and accidents do happen (certainly not Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs!) …and there always has to be someone to blame, punish and of course, get money out of…
In the service industry, this has led to ridiculous policies being thought up, stupid signs being put up, and employees being told to shut up, just in case there may be any error or issue that will leave the business liable.
Customer Service departments have become very cynical about those who take the time to complain or give feedback, in the apparent belief that their customers are just trying to pull a fast one. And at the coal face, there is just no trust anymore as I discovered myself at Christmas when I asked to take advantage of a well promoted offer from Fenwicks to price match their competitors. Twenty minutes later, after a call and a visit had been made to the other store, I got my price match of £3.50…and that from the lady working the counter who was so frustrated by her manager’s lack of trust, that she chose to be accountable herself, and gave me the reduction.
In the business world and public sector, employees are regularly reminded of the need for accountability. Huge amounts of both time and money are spent in defining roles and responsibilities and determining who is accountable for what. The idea being that if you know who is accountable then you can either punish or reward as required…but of course it’s not always that black and white. As one senior manager of a public sector body is heard to have said,”If you work hard and get good results here, you’ll be rewarded; and if you don’t work hard and get mediocre results, you’ll also be rewarded.”
The truth is that people work hard to avoid accountability, and there is a lot of truth in the old saying, ‘Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.’ The fear of failure, and the blame associated with it drives people to become very creative in seeking to avoid it…often blaming others (see Tesco’s latest ‘outing’ of their horsemeat supplier) or circumstances beyond their control (does ‘wrong type of leaves on the line’ ring any bells?)
Politicians and bankers are Jedi Masters at this.
At the end of the day, we are all personally accountable for the things we do and say…nobody ‘makes us do it’…and we are not ‘victims’ here. But it’s also true that things do happen that are outside of our control…sometimes outside of anyone’s control…and we just need to recognise and accept them. A little trust and forgiveness would not go amiss either.
On that note, and as I’ve just sent off my tax return, it seems fitting that I finish this blog with a little prayer…
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference. “