Did somebody move your cheese? Did somebody move your cheese?




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Did somebody move your cheese?

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last year or so (which actually may turn out to be a good thing,) you will be very aware that the world economy has hit a bit of a rough patch. The doom and gloom reporting of the media reminds us daily that we are suffering a global recession that could take years to end.

If you are familiar with Spencer Johnson’s allegory called Who Moved My Cheese? you could be forgiven for thinking that your cheese definitely got moved!
Now, most of us will have some opinion of how this sorry situation came about.  Hot contenders for blame range from the greed of the financial institutions to the inadequacies of the lending processes, from the outrageous bonuses promised to bankers to Joe Public who went way over his credit limit when he borrowed money to buy a house he just couldn’t afford.
Governments have bailed out failing lenders using taxpayer’s money and the taxpayer will be hit again when taxes are increased to rebuild treasury funds and public spending gets cut because the cash isn’t there any more.
Whilst financial institutions are challenging and/or grudgingly accepting proposals for increased regulation of compensation and bonuses, many of them (including some of those heavily bailed out by government) are complying with new rules to reduce bonuses whilst increasing base salaries to compensate staff that would lose out.
We have to retain good staff
Accountability is Key
Let’s put the word “Accountability” on the lab table and dissect it so that we can explore the complete understanding of the word.
Business Dictionary defines “Accountability” as:
Obligation of an individual, firm, or institution to account for its activities, acceptresponsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property.
My old copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines “Accountable” as:
Responsible; required to account for one’s conduct (accountable for one’s actions).
Which is echoed in the online version of The Compact Oxford English Dictionary.
So, in the great scheme of things, whatever happened to accountability?
Personal Accountability
When I was in my 20’s I worked in a hospital – I was responsible for the safe and exemplary treatment of my patients, whilst the hospital board was ultimately accountable for liability.  However, I held myself personally accountable to the patient, their relations, to myself and to any higher being who might be interested.
When I moved into the commercial sector I began to understand more of accountability for sales revenues, for knowing about my territory and customers needs, and for being a responsible and honourable representative of my company.  I understood that commissions (i.e. the cash in my pocket) would increase or decrease in line with my activities and results, so that I was also accountable for my take home pay.
Organizational Accountability
When I became a senior manager I learned more of operational accountability and performance bonuses, both individual and for team achievements.  I had “soft” targets about how I did my job, but the cash still followed the overall revenue and profit budget locally, regionally and at a corporate level.
Again, I held myself personally accountable for the well being and development of my staff, but their pay and bonuses would be awarded based on mutually agreed targets.  All of us were subject to a corporate ruling that poor results = low or zero bonuses and the possibility of a pay freeze until the next year.  Each year we would receive the rules that would be applied to our particular situation, changed as necessary to reflect corporate drivers.  After all, if the corporation didn’t survive none of us had jobs!
One year we had achieved very average local results, so although the sales commissions were not badly hit for some people, the management performance bonuses were negligible. Another year we did ok locally and the reps all received good commissions, but overall the corporation’s operating results were below projections so the manager’s performance bonuses suffered.
Yet another year we massively exceeded all our operational targets locally and received substantial rewards in line with the annual guidelines, even though other groups suffered because their results were not up to the mark.  Our local performance had boosted the overall corporate outcome on that occasion, allowing bonuses to be paid.
Did we retain our good staff, even in the lean times?  Yes we did, because each of us took ownership of the part we had to play in the success of our worldwide team, as well as locally.
Nobody likes to be blamed for bad results and as leaders the buck might really stop with us.  By acknowledging our own levels of accountability and clearly identifying to our team the expectations for their deliverables, we are more likely to stay ahead of the game and maybe even spot new cheese (opportunity) in times of change.
What are you personally accountable for? Are you willing to stand up and be counted when something goes wrong – then take corrective actions whilst learning from the experience? And when things go right, do you also try to learn something from the experience and pass that knowledge on? Do your team members also know what they are accountable for and understand the consequences of their performance in relation to themselves and to the wider organisation? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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