CEOs and EDs Need Accountability Too

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So, you’ve got managers and deliverables, deadlines and yearly evaluations to make sure employees do their jobs.

Hal and Steve keep each other honest: working number of crunches and crunching numbers on the biz.

Hal and Steve keep each other honest: working number of crunches and crunching numbers on the biz.

And you see to it that the managers do their jobs. But who is holding you accountable? Who is checking to see that you’re making reasoned decisions about direction and money and policies? Or are you just flying by the seat of your pants, hoping you don’t screw up?

A couple of years ago I committed to my employees that we would build a new website. We really needed one. But with one thing and another, it took more than a year to get it done. I didn’t really have anybody in charge of asking where I was on the project or what steps I had taken. And that’s small potatoes. Consider what happened at Enron when the board looked the other way and didn’t hold the executives accountable. Disaster. The name Enron is now synonymous with scandal, fraud and lax oversight.

As the head of a company or non-profit, you’re responsible to find someone you can trust to hold you accountable. And it should be someone whose job isn’t on the line if she calls you on a bad decision. It might be as formal as your board of directors or a board of advisors. When choosing them, you have to make sure that you’re comfortable with them questioning you about things like where the money’s going. You have to give them the power to do that without your getting all huffy. But they can’t be so chummy that no one wants to call you on it when it looks like you’re heading out into the reeds. I am on the board of a non-profit, and every month we look at the financials. It’s not a vote of no-confidence. We don’t think the ED is embezzling money and planning to escape to Costa Rica. It’s just good business that keeps donors happy and all of us accept as a helpful practice.

Another alternative is just to find a mentor, a business coach or a mastermind group of other executives. Find someone who has been recommended to you by other business owners you have confidence in. Frankly, I’ve been in some of these mastermind groups and I think of them as CEO therapy. It’s so great to be in a room full of people who struggle with the same kinds of burdens and choices that you deal with every day.

Let’s face it. In different areas of our lives we need accountability. That’s why there are personal trainers. You can actually operate all the machinery in a gym without some person with a perfect physique telling you what to do. But a lot of us wouldn’t ever get to the gym if we didn’t know that trainer was waiting and would give us the face if we didn’t show up. Your employees can’t afford to give you the face. So you need to link up with someone who will.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business. Contact me atCaroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at Caroline@valentinehr.com or call (512) 420-8267.

2 Responses to “CEOs and EDs Need Accountability Too”

  1. Hi Caroline! You write an important and timely piece. And there is an additional CEO requirement: recognize that sometimes the skies ARE cloudy all day. There are companies where people who dare observe that the sun might not be shining get fired.

    I witnessed this for the first time in 1986. My employer, then Fortune 127, had launched a technology subsidiary that “looked good on paper” but quickly galloped through its initial $40 million. The marketing and sales professionals and their managers could see the clouds gathering and talked about the clouds among themselves. But in the presence of the CEO, seldom was heard a discouraging word. That’s because when two branch general managers did hint at the possibility of impending problems, they were let go. The clouds turned out to be quite real and dark, of course. The company soon was “raided,” sold off piece by piece, and doesn’t exist anymore.

    There is a better, more constructive way for CEOs and EDs to communicate and behave even in times of adversity: tell the truth.

  2. It is so funny that you sent this now. I’ve had some kind of group or paid consultant on tap for the past four years until last week when the consultant fired me (I actually did not like him much and was trying to figure out a way to cut him loose). I’ve been paying a lot of money for the help and after two years the motion forward has been not so much. I’m resting but on the look out for a new way after I’ve enjoyed my independence for a while.
    I’m a believer, though, and won’t go long without finding a group to work with again.