And the Loser Is…

January 20th, 2015  | 

Published in Accountability

Leaders throughout the world voted in December for the “Best and Worst in Accountability” of 2014 in the Bustin & Co. Accountability Appraisal.

Voters completing the survey had an opportunity to win one of 10 signed copies of Greg Bustin’s book “Accountability,” named by Soundview as one of the best business books of 2014.  I’d like to thank the nearly 500 people who logged on to vote. Those winning a copy of my book have been notified.

Voters were given this litmus test for accountability: Either we can count on someone who gives us their word, or we cannot.

The results are in.

Most Accountable for 2014
First, the good news.

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.

CVS Caremark CEO Larry Merlo was selected as the “most accountable” person in 2014 over four other strong candidates. Alan Mulally placed second for his turnaround of Ford Motor Company.

Merlo was chosen “most accountable” for his February 2014 decision announcing that CVS Caremark would stop selling tobacco products in October 2014 because of “the inconsistency of selling tobacco in a place where healthcare is delivered.” At the time, Merlo noted there were sales of $2 billion at stake.

Now, the bad news.

Least Accountable for 2014
People at the top who make watered-down decisions, who make no decision at all, or who say one thing and then another abdicate their responsibility. In so doing, they not only fail to fix the problem but lose our respect.

That’s why voters selected former U.S. government secretary Eric Shinseki the “least accountable” person of 2014 for his shoddy management of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2014, the VA increased the average wait time to 114 days, and its botched paperwork, outmoded systems and ineffective bureaucracy resulted in confirmed deaths of at least 40 veterans.

In a difficult year for the U.S. government, Kathleen Sebelius, former health and human services secretary, placed second for the problematic launch of healthcare.gov.

Last week, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced she plans to step down at the end of February. Though Tavenner didn’t say why she was leaving, she acknowledged last November that her agency made a mistake and “inadvertently counted twice” the number of people – nearly 400,000 people – enrolled under Obamacare.

Lack of Accountability Hurts Everyone
Based on hundreds of engagements and data I have collected over a six-year period from more than 4,500 CEOs and their key executives from around the world, 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.

  1. A leader who fails to address performance issues loses the respect of his colleagues, and may ultimately lose his or her job.
  2. Under-performing employees who are not coached up or coached out lose the opportunity to reach their potential or find a job that better suits their skills and temperament.
  3. Top performers who observe continued instances of under-performance lose their enthusiasm for their work, their leader and their company, often prompting them to leave for an organization that expects high performance from everyone.
  4. Customers lose when deadlines are missed and the quality they expect is not delivered. (Customers expect the best, so they will not lose for long before taking their business elsewhere.)
  5. An organization that tolerates an overall 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 accountable organization:

Clear expectations must be established. When your purpose, expec¬tations, and rewards are crystal clear, your employees will embrace accountability as a way to become even more suc¬cessful. 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 spe¬cific 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 2015.

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises leaders of some of the world’s most admired companies, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book—How Leaders Decide: A Timeless Guide to Making Tough Choices—examines 52 of history’s greatest triumphs and tragedies and debuted in April as the #1 new historical reference book on Amazon.

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