Be Clear About Accountability and Decision-Making in Business and at Work


Thanks to the television monitors in the Lecture Center complex at the University at Albany, I clearly remember the Special Report coverage the day that President Reagan was shot in March 1981. I also remember Secretary of State Al Haig declaring to the White House Press Corps while Reagan was in surgery that “‘As of now, I am in control here, in the White House,” causing a media and constitutional uproar – according to the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President was next in line to assume power in the event of the death of a President, not Secretary of State Haig.

After the crisis passed, it came to light that Vice President George Bush was traveling in a plane over Texas with limited communication resources at the time Reagan was shot; and that the White House protocol for handling a presidential assassination / assassination attempt had not been updated in almost 20 years, since President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. In the vacuum of an established organizational protocol for an assassination scenario where the Vice President was out of town / unreachable, Haig stepped in, albeit awkwardly, and created his own protocol in an attempt to reassure the nation that the U.S. government was still functioning. And he ended up just stepping in it – which ultimately did not reflect well on him, or the Reagan administration.

Established decision-making and accountability protocols help ensure the smooth functioning of any organization in any sector; such protocols can also ensure compliance and avoid confusion with regard to standards of accountability and performance.  For example, who in your organization is authorized to act as the organization’s representative when (including but not limited to):

  • Speaking to the press;
  • Posting organizational information in social media;
  • Hiring employees;
  • Terminating employees;
  • Writing and signing checks;
  • Supervising employees and teams;
  • Committing organizational time and resources?

Documented policies, procedures and job descriptions all support identifying such protocols, while defining organizational boundaries and optimizing decision-making and accountability – which in turn supports both the success of the individual and the organization.

How clear are your organization’s accountability and decision-making protocols, supporting the success of all stakeholders in business and at work?

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