External accountability as a soft-marketing tool

This blog continues the Effectiveness Lab’s January 2016 theme of soft-marketing tools and the fact that companies have not always paid enough attention to them; this, much as it would save companies millions in hard-marketing cost.

Last weeks’ blog discussed Internal-Accountability and its power as a soft-marketing tool. The blog’s hypothesis was that: ‘if companies ensure there are internal accountability and the resulting transparency in their day to day operations, they will likely become more effective and efficient, and that will spur a domino effect all the way to their customer ranks.’

Correct defective vision: on Internal & External Accountability

Correct defective vision: on Internal & External Accountability

This week, the Effectiveness Lab hypothesises yet again that: ‘if companies ensure that there is both Internal and external accountability in their day to day operations, they will likely become even more effective and efficient in their respective value chains and ultimately gain significant surpluses in their bottom-lines.’

What is External Accountability?

Last week we defined accountability as below:

A Is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s action and decisions, justify them, and suffer punishment in case of eventual misconduct (Scheduler, 1999). In this particular context, accountability has three dimensions:

  • Answerability – timely share any relevant info in a manner accessible to all stakeholders – with clear justification for decisions made
  • Responsiveness – responsive to views of stakeholders in process (participation – inputs of stakeholders transform into policy and practice)
  • Enforceability – bear consequences of violation of duties (punishment, sanctions, and redress)

EXTERNAL-accountability is practicing the above three vices: answerability, responsiveness, and enforceability but in what we refer to, in accountability speak, as the ‘outside in’ perspective.

The key difference between internal and external accountability is that while Internal accountability comes from the ‘inside out’ and is about your individual values regime; external accountability comes from the ‘outside in’, being held accountable not to oneself but to others. In external accountability, we are compelled to follow set diktats, which are moulded out of expectations from the external environment.

Put another way, while you may choose or not, to practice Internal accountability, the opposite is true of external accountability – it has to be done. Where leaders and companies choose not to exercise external accountability, they can suffer reprimand in either of two ways:

  • For private sector firms, they will lose bottom line value and risk the wrath of shareholders or even going under. There is ongoing debate about the not-for-profit companies and external accountability but let us keep that for another time
  • For governments (assuming they are functional democracies) they risk the wrath of the voters at the ballot box

So given the above, is Internal accountability secondary to external accountability? It is our view at the Effectiveness Lab that effective leaders and organisations deal with both accountabilities in tandem. Both internal and external accountability types are required to derive efficient and effective outcomes at companies.

Why is it that a company cannot attain seamless efficacy with only one of the accountability types?

Can you imagine a situation where leaders work in isolation of their teams inside companies? Will such leaders have a sustainable bottom line or positive outcomes (for non-profits) to talk of before the owners of their businesses? If your answer to both questions is NO, and we hope it is, then it is obvious that we need both types of accountability at companies

A company may practice the best models of external accountability, bringing the correct external ‘demand perspectives’ to its internal value chain. However, for the ‘demand perspective’ to be addressed through a viable ‘supply proposition’, there is a need for internal discourse and goodwill from your staff, to act on such ‘demand perspectives’.

Get the Internal accountability dynamic wrong and the seamless capability to ask questions and provide answers to external ‘demand perspectives’ shall disappear across the rank and file at the organisation – in the last two blogs, we have called this factor ‘getting the ‘internals’ wrong’:

‘Have you come across CEO’s, directors, and managers that are extremely good at external representation and abysmal at the internals and their drivers. We at the Effectiveness Lab would like to write upfront that leaders that neglect the workings of the ’soft’ internals will never achieve their full potential. This blog discusses internal accountability and how, if done well, is powerful and in many ways ‘cost-free’ marketing.’

So suffice it said that you need both Internal and External accountability, especially in today’s era, where an increasingly youth, mobile, and intolerant labour force will quit jobs if they find them boring, uninspiring, and oppressive

External accountability as a soft-marketing tool:

  • Enabling flipped-marketing: Because companies ask and address feedback upfront, marketing becomes an F.Y.I (For Your Information) tool and not a game at hard-selling adverts and marketers bullying us into buying products and services. Good example: I am an Apple customer, and I have never been compelled to buy an Apple product, via ‘blitzkrieg’ marketing (Samsung) and multiple and confusing product offers. Instead, Apple has asked what I want, went back and addressed that need, and Apple only alerts me to the fact that the need is addressed, and I will voluntarily line up to buy an iPhone, MacBook Air, etc. In our opinion, this is powerful soft and flipped-marketing, especially, In Africa. True ‘outside-in’ dynamics
  • Enabling laser-sharp research and Investment in product/service development: Companies shall always research all types of cutting-edge technology, develop products/services, and sell them to customers. There is a good side to this, and we indeed have witnessed thousands of product/service successes out of this; but also, the risk of failure is too big, especially in fast moving consumer environments. There is incredible business-safety (not risk) in defining customer need and targeting like a laser, products and services to such confirmed need. The principle is the same, if you know what I want upfront, you don’t have to do a very hard job of persuading me to buy your products and services through expensive marketing and door to door campaigns. Is it time for the digital savvy marketing research firm to blossom?
  • One off, big bang product/service development increasingly a ‘thing’ of the past: In the past, companies had all the time needed to research, design and bring products/services to market. In the fast moving markets of today, development time is dwindling by the day. The product/service development paradigm is shifting from wholesome development processes to drip-drop, incremental approaches. Companies that have modelled effectively ’outside in’ mechanisms shall thrive in this era of uncertain and ever-shifting consumer demand. Hard-marketing may not save companies without effective external-accountability practices

Those of you familiar with development organisations will know that many are struggling to survive today because they lack the capability to put in place ‘drip-drop, incremental approaches’ to development programming

My takeaway: If you are looking for efficacy, and I am sure all companies do: first – ensure you have both Internal and External Accountability practices at your business, second – ensure that your employees understand very well the difference between the two accountability types and that they become a seamless part of their job at the company

With the above two in place, marketing becomes a soft and cost-saving matter at your company –  companies can then adopt a minimalist approach to hard-marketing; hard-marketing becomes an F.Y.I to company clients!



Categories: Strategy, You, the Leader!

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  1. Soft-marketing tools and company effectiveness – bringing it all together – Gabazira's blog

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