Quality guru and evangelist Y Tsuda, who has driven the total quality management learning in many Indian companies, emphasises on the involvement of people at every level.
However, this involvement is different at different levels. Although a common mission and vision guide every employee, there is a difference in the level of accountability, responsibility and authority.
Authority is the right to take decisions, which is the highest at the top management level. Responsibility is the liability of a person to perform the role as defined in his job description.
Accountability is about taking responsibilities that go beyond a person's job description. It is highest at the top-most level and the least at the lowest level. Most people normally do not think beyond their department.
Consider a purchasing manager in a manufacturing company. He has the authority to decide which supplier to buy from and at what price. His responsibility is to supply parts and materials to sustain production and to implement purchasing operations.
His accountability is to feel responsible for poor quality of material, profitability of the company and so on. If he believes that he is only supposed to order the material and that it is the supplier's responsibility to deliver the material in time or to ensure its quality, the range within which he feels his responsibility is too narrow.
Responsibility can be written down as a job description -- accountability is about commitment.
Division of authority, responsibility and accountability
Consider the division of authority, responsibility and accountability amongst various levels in a company. The CEO has all the authority. His accountability is equally big. His responsibility is little -- most of it is delegated to his subordinates.
The middle management has a responsibility that is larger than its authority. Its accountability is the largest -- more than its responsibility.
For others, authority and responsibility are the same. If a common employee thinks about how to improve his work or improve the quality, he is assuming accountability larger than his responsibility.
In that sense, the common employees and the CEO are in a similar situation. Their accountability is well defined. It is at the middle management level that reforms are necessary.
If a manager desires that his authority, responsibility and accountability be equal, he better be made a common employee. If, on the other hand, a common employee wants to extend his accountability, he must be recognised.
How accountability helps
Accountability leads to sharing of responsibility. As more and more people in the organisation start thinking beyond their daily jobs and think of the organisation's benefit, it helps in the achievement of the organisation's goals. People set their personal objectives in line with the objectives of every department.
For instance, if the production manager has set himself the target of reducing costs by 20 per cent, it becomes his responsibility to optimize the cost of raw material or of his people.
But if he feels accountable, he would start considering how to reduce the cost of power -- which might be the job of maintenance department -- or he might provide inputs to the tools department on which tools might improve productivity.
Every organisation must have a process to develop people to feel accountable. It would enable the top management to focus their time and energy on issues that will keep the organisation going or develop a better business model.
In an organisation where accountability levels are high, an ambidextrous organisation can survive without much ado. An ambidextrous organisation is an organisation within another, set up to implement innovative or breakthrough ventures of the organisation.
While working on product innovation or on a business process innovation, employees will not focus on finding fault with others, but will enable each other to be more productive.
In organisations where there is a process of accountability, idea generation for innovation is more common.
Also, organisations that have broken the barriers of departmental silos can test their ideas on each other and implement innovative ideas faster.Dr Surinder Kapur is chairman, CII Mission for Manufacturing Innovation, and chairman and managing director, Sona Koyo Steering Systems