In the second annual Bustin & Co. Accountability Appraisal, leaders throughout the world voted last month in an accountability survey for the “Best and Worst in Accountability” of 2015.
Voting participation increased by 23 percent with more than 500 executives responding. Voters had an opportunity to win one of 10 signed copies of Accountability, and those winning a book have been notified. While more than 75% of the participants are from the U.S., votes were cast by leaders in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Thank you all for voting.
Voters were given this litmus test for accountability: Either we can count on someone who gives us their word, or we cannot.
Most Accountable for 2015
We count on leaders—in government, academia, sports, and business—to make tough decisions.
So we admire and trust a leader who’s willing to make an unpopular decision if we’re convinced their judgment is guided by a moral compass, a compassionate heart and a thoughtful view of what’s best for the long-term greater good of those they serve.
The top-ranked organization in the 2015 accountability survey was REI, with 34% of all votes cast.
When REI CEO Jerry Stritzke announced the company would close all 143 of its stores on the year’s busiest shopping day, he put the company’s money where its mouth is. He demonstrated REI’s core values that have helped make this outdoor recreation outfitter one of the Best Places to Work since 1998.
REI’s unwavering devotion to its core purpose was rewarded by shoppers: REI reported a 10% increase in online sales on Thanksgiving, and a 26% increase in online sales for the two days its brick and mortar stores were closed.
Here are the rankings:
- REI closes for Thanksgiving, receiving 34% of the votes.
- Pope Francis uses his pulpit for the poor and the planet, receiving 27% of the votes.
- Best Buy’s turnaround led by CEO Hubert Joly, CFO Sharon McCollum and their team of mostly female leaders received 22% of the votes.
- Panera’s decision to eliminate up to 150 ingredients with artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners and flavors received 15% of the votes.
- Walmart’s decision to launch an animal welfare initiative received 2% of the votes.
Least Accountable for 2015
People at the top who make watered-down decisions, who make no decision at all, or who say one thing and then do another abdicate their responsibility. In so doing, they not only fail to fix the problem but lose our respect.
Several voters emailed saying they wanted to vote all of the nominees as “worst.”
Here, in reverse order—from least offensive to the biggest offender—are the rankings of the least accountable people and organizations of 2015:
- Mexico allows its most wanted criminal to escape a second time, receiving 8% of the votes. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was recaptured last Friday, so perhaps the third time will be the charm for Mexico’s prison officials.
- Brian Williams, the former anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News” who admitted making “inaccurate statements” about his experience during a helicopter attack in Iraq but couldn’t bring himself to use the “L” word, received 17% of the votes.
- Death in the French Alps, the crash of Lufthansa’s economy airline Germanwings Flight 9525 by the co-pilot with a long history of depression, received 19% of the votes.
- Sepp Blatter, the ousted president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association whose allegations of fraud, kickbacks and outright theft have dogged his presidency since 1998, received 24% of the votes.
- And the least accountable organization of 2015 is Volkswagen with 32% of the votes.
Rigged emissions testing in 11 million Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche automobiles cost CEO Martin Winterkorn his job last September. In November, VW sales plunged 25% at a time when analysts projected industry sales would increase 2.5%.
In the latest turn of events, The New York Times reported Saturday that German privacy laws are making it difficult “to identify which employees knew about or sanctioned the deceptions.” VW Group’s new chief Matthias Müller has promised “maximum transparency” but, so far, the actions do not match the words.
Lack of Accountability Hurts Everyone
Based on hundreds of engagements and data I have collected over a seven-year period from more than 5,000 CEOs and key executives worldwide, the facts are clear: Most organizations are not as effective as they could be at getting things done.
And lack of accountability is a big reason why; often it’s the reason why.
When a person fails to deliver on a promise, everyone loses.
- Leaders who don’t address performance issues lose their colleagues’ respect.
- Under-performing employees whose behavior is ignored lose the opportunity to reach their potential or find a job that better suits their skills and temperament.
- Top performers who observe continued instances of under-performance lose their enthusiasm and may depart.
- Customers lose when quality and service is not delivered; they eventually take their business elsewhere.
- Organizations that tolerate lack of accountability can measure its losses in abnormal turnover, high levels of customer dissatisfaction, declines in the quality of products and services, and, ultimately, brand erosion.
Accountability is Affection, Not Punishment
To give yourself, your colleagues and your organization the best chance to succeed, remember that accountability is not punishment. It’s a support system for winners.
Then follow these steps to create and sustain an organization where accountability matters.
Clear expectations must be established. When your purpose, expectations, and rewards are crystal clear, your employees will embrace accountability as a way to become even more successful. The opposite is also true: If you are not clear about everything—vision, values, objectives, strategy, rewards, and, yes, penalties—the likelihood of achieving your vision is slim.
Bad news does not improve with age. As soon as you see a problem, it’s best to address it immediately. Failure to speak frankly with the person about his or her performance means nothing will change.
It’s not personal. Yes, you’re talking with a person, but leave emotions and opinions behind. Stick to the facts, set a plan to get performance back on track, and communicate specific consequences for underperformance. If under-performers require termination, do it professionally and allow them their dignity.
Accountability is critical to anyone leading a group of people, because, after all, every business is a people business. Accountability is how people get things done—or don’t get things done.
Happy New Year! Here’s to a successful 2016.