The Power of Accountability

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Unfortunately, past, current and future headlines have and will continue to include cautionary tales of leadership and organizational flaws which open up non-profit organizations to civil, legal and even criminal allegations and charges. Regardless of innocence or guilt, these situations are certainly unwanted, serve as major distractions and can often derail or even destroy an organization. The good news for organizations, is that through a strong accountability system most of these instances are avoidable and at the very least, can be addressed before they become full-blown crises.

Accountability is often considered in a negative context as something that is limiting and punitive. In reality, a strong accountability structure empowers an organization, particularly in light of would-be funders and clientele. For organizations of all types, corporations, nonprofits, churches, universities and others, instituting codes of conduct for organizational leaders and staff are essential. In order for everyone to be held accountable, common set of standards to which they are to be held to must be established and agreed upon. These standards include ethical codes of conduct which cannot be violated. They should extend across all areas of the organization from financial transactions to actions conducted on “company time.” Secondly the organization must institute a systematic manner by which it reviews and monitors adherence to these organizational standards. This can include monthly or quarterly performance reviews by executive staff or the board of directors.

Obviously these standards, their origins and their compliance will vary significantly between say a church and a corporation, but the principles are the same. One of the key areas of focus in the area of accountability is communication. These standards must be commonly shared, written and published in organizational literature such as an employee handbook, contract, board handbook etc. Policies that are unequivocal in their standards as well as their consequences combined with personnel who monitor and are held accountable can help prevent abuses of power. In the end an organization is only as strong as the accountability its foremost leader faces. Ideally individuals would hold themselves accountable, but it never hurts to have safeguards and responsibilities in place for our leaders. While they are often capable of great things, they still are sometimes subject to human failings. Even greater achievements often accompany those who are equipped both with a strong moral compass and a surrounding system to reinforce their character.

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