Accountability in business and in government is the cornerstone of good governance and ultimately, good performance. Without single point accountability for processes, organisations have no means of ensuring that what have been determined as the goals for the organisation are likely to be met.
Before discussing why accountability is such an important issue, let me proffer an opinion on the difference between responsibility and accountability. A person, who is responsible for a process, executes the process. A person who is accountable for a process has the authority to change the nature of a process, its business purpose and is held accountable for the aggregate performance of the process over time.
When we work in organisations we see weaknesses in the way in which people are made accountable for processes.
In many cases we find processes for which no one is accountable. In these cases it is clear that the processes are not being tracked for effectiveness or efficiency. When the business environment changes it becomes next to impossible for an organisation to effect changes to the process that are necessary to reflect that change in the business environment.
In most cases we find processes with multiple people being accountable. An example is when one person is accountable for the budget for a process, another for approving, say overtime, for a process and yet another for how the process is carried out. Multiple accountability delays decision making and ensures that no one makes an effort to improve the process.
Another problem we encounter frequently is delegated accountability where the responsible person is also delegated the accountability for a process. Whilst delegation of responsibility for processes is a healthy phenomenon, delegation of accountability is not.
Difficulty in separating responsibility for the iterative outcomes of a process versus accountability for aggregate outcomes of a process over time, leads to confusion. Where one-up managers are not accountable for processes under their control, it becomes difficult to understand how the process itself can be improved or controlled. Delegated accountability most often comes without delegated authority, making it even more difficult for processes to be improved.
In one organisation we have encountered, twenty five percent of processes had no accountable person and a further fifty percent of the processes had the accountability delegated to the responsible person. The organisation in question found it impossible to respond to changing business requirements of its internal customers and to staff turnover as all the knowledge of the process left when the person who executed the process left.
In addition to processes not having an appropriate single accountable person allocated, we also find problems where individuals are allocated too many processes for which they are accountable. Whilst many organisations recognise span of control issues as a function of direct reports or a monetary value, they often ignore the issue of span of control over processes.
Individuals with too many processes to control have little ability to understand how well processes are performing or to conduct analysis to understand how processes can be improved. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules, we find that as the number of processes under the control of one individual increases over eight, the issues of inappropriate span of control become more evident.
A useful tool for identifying who is responsible and accountable for a series of processes is the RACI framework. R is Responsible, i.e. performs the work, A is for Accountable, i.e. the ability to take decisions about a process. C is for Consulted, i.e. is asked for an opinion. I is for Informed, i.e. the outcome of processes is made known to them.
They interact as follows. Responsible liaises with Consulted to identify the context, data, rationale and options for a process and executes the process. Responsible escalates if necessary to Accountable. Accountable ensures the process works effectively and efficiently. Responsible then tells Informed of the outcome of the process.
When carrying out a RACI analysis it is of great benefit and takes little time to also determine what measures are being used to determine whether the process is being executed well or not. The measures for a process or process Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be a major tool for a person to understand if the processes for which they are accountable are in fact operating at the level desired by the organisation.
Having processes with an accountable person identified and no means of determining how efficiently the process is being executed or how effective the process is, is not significantly better than not having an accountable person at all.
Ensuring that accountable people are identified for processes and that adequate process measures are in place enables organisations not only to ensure that their processes are under control, but also provides the organisational basis for ensuring that processes are efficient, effective and aligned to the organisational goals.