Should accountability focus on the end-result or process?

The majority of the products and services we buy or are gifted, come from a system that, like the police force, monitor compliance to process by those that sale labour to employers.

And just like we have different cultures in the police forces around the world, even companies differ when it comes to how employees are held to account for what they are hired to do. Indeed, companies police differently.

Pic. Credit: Unsplash.com

So – this week, the Effectiveness lab delves into accountability management and two approaches to its enforcement. This is especially applicable to those working for the so-called ‘formal’ sector. Or for lack of a better expression, those of you that sweat on factory floors and in white-collar jobs, for a living.

Companies have business value chains and ways they do business. We refer to the steps and customs companies follow to deliver final products/services, as the process part of the business value chain. From the latter process, companies get to what the Effectiveness lab calls the Z-point of the business value chain – i.e. finished products and services delivered to the clientele.

The phones you buy from the likes of Apple and Samsung, the services you buy from service providers like doctors, hair-dressers, etc will have undergone certain process/es to get moulded into a final outcome and delivered at the point of sale.

Now, certain bosses – want to oversee the process to be sure the products and services that come off the end of the value creation continuum are in pristine condition. On the other hand, you have the flipped boss that would rather focus on the final product and not process. The latter boss makes the assumption that they can’t attain efficacy by overseeing multiple and likely, scattered, value-chain processes and would rather trust the rank and file to do the process element right. The latter’s focus is the final product

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches:

We will focus on the disadvantages in this blog:

Focusing on the final outcome may overlook process errors and lead to poor quality products and services; poor quality causes re-work and process repetition; missed deadlines and all the accompanying dire market consequences. Ultimately, this kind of approach may affect the company bottom line in negative ways.

On the other hand, too much fixation with process leads to a disjointed work-process map, oversight-overkill and the accompanying delays – including, exasperation with the multiple process-stops and checks along the business value chain. In the ensuing frustration, the results may be delays, missed deadlines to market and like above, negative impact on the company’s bottom line.

It’s therefore interesting that both approaches have the same negativities. You can’t say one is better than the other. The question, therefore, is, when to deploy which approach

There are several factors at play here:

  • The labour market context the company finds itself in – companies operating in low-skill/capacity labour markets tend to apply the process accountability approach. Accountability is monitored step by step to avoid multiple mistakes and significantly compromised quality at the Z-point
  • The culture at the organisation – companies have cultures they thrive under – i.e. their ways of doing business. Some companies, irrespective of the external and internal factors, choose to apply process accountability approaches. You call such firms all kinds of names – risk-averse, controlling, non-trusting, etc. On the other hand, you have companies on the opposite end of the continuum. They are mostly interested in final products and trust that processes, once defined and explained to those in service, are executed well.
  • Ethics and value regimes – some companies espouse certain values and ethics that have to be respected, irrespective of the end-result – for example, employee-rights have to be respected in the cloth manufacturing industry in Asia, irrespective of effect on final products. Investment is made in process checks and balances to ensure compliance to ethics
  • The individual style of the guffer – the accountability approach that is favoured boils down to the style of the guffer. Be it at home, work or in your other social circles, you have a certain way you manage things and that tends to get reflected at work, in terms of style. Process accountability managers are very detail-oriented and will want visibility on the nitty-gritty of the value chain elements; while outcome accountability managers are skimpy on detail and always look at the big picture.
  • The nature of work (no room for error esp. if equipment failure can be catastrophic) – let us keep this one simple – if you work in an aeroplane factory, like Boeing or Airbus, it’s likely that you will have to be comfortable with the process accountability approach. There is simply no room for error at this kind of industry. And we make the assumption that checks and balances have been built in at every step of the value chain
  • And finally, it’s also, a combination of all the above.

The issue, therefore, is not which accountability approach is the best. It’s ultimately, a matter of the approach that best suits your individual professional DNA.

The choice of company to sale your skills to is between the high-bandwidth, tedious and mind-boggling process accountability organisation, that has a higher tolerance for errors versus the more relaxed and empowering outcomes accountability culture that has little room for error i.e. your final outcomes have to be right the first time.

We opine that companies that shall offer the most in-demand management and accountability paradigm, will attract the very best skills. Those that stick to the not-in-demand approach, will retain second class employees. Determining the best accountability approach is a market matter and not what is best or not of the two approaches. The demand for skills will ultimately determine which approach is best – especially as the millennial and very soon the z-generations, vote with their feet, in choosing which companies they want to work for.

In conclusion, accountability management at companies and the consequences thereof, is not about which accountability paradigm is good or bad, but what is the best fit for you to be effective as an employee.

Look for personal fit and the labour market forces shall address the at-times invisible, subtle and more complicated part of this equation – i.e. the better of the two accountability approaches. The latter is a systemic issue.

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Categories: You, the Leader!

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