Marks on accountability
It’s time for a fresh look at accountability. It’s a leadership term and should not be used to fix blame for a failure. Fixing blame limits our perspective and pushes away our professional responsibilities. Accountability is the backbone of the skeletal structure of a professional. It’s what holds us upright and allows us to look in the mirror each day and not blink. It gives us the ability to make decisions consistent with law and policy.
My first professional manager used accountability as a tool to lead our organization through difficult times, much like we are experiencing now. Our employees, clients, vendors and citizenry demand no less from us. It’s a professional as well as a personal statement by which our effectiveness is measured and defined.
How you measure yourself, in a large way, speaks to how you feel about your profession. I have maintained that our performance should be measured by a procurement -specific set of rules — an appraisal that deals with our abilities, not a generic appraisal generated by a human resources department. If you just count requisitions and orders placed, you’re doing a disservice to both yourself and your organization. That’s an accounting function. Ours is to ensure appropriate and creative procedures are being followed. I’m not saying risk everything by violating or bending the rules, but a judicious and businesslike application that will benefit your organization may be in order in some circumstances.
When was the last time you asked yourself and your department, “What takes up most of our time and how can we change this?” If meetings take the most time, then set time limits on how long you will be in attendance. If you find that meetings are used to focus on punch lists of tasks or to complain, it’s time to change your organizational culture. It’s easy to have a meeting where you bayonet the wounded after the battle is lost. Do not fall into that trap. Meetings should not be used to look backward. They are a device to share information.
If your time is being spent in process, look at how to change the way you do business to work smarter and leaner. Be creative, but be professional. Sometimes it’s that one simple idea that everyone knows about but has not found its way into your operation.
Observe your own staff. Who works fastest and with the least effort? Is it their abilities or is it the way they do business? What can you learn from them? How can you teach others to be more effective?
Check your staff to see how much purchasing sense they have. Can they look at a requirement and see its logical path to completion, from the specification development to the final approval and contracting phase? It’s a difficult thing to teach, but worthwhile in staff development. Use it as a teaching tool at your staff meetings.
Hold yourself and your clients to a higher standard of accountability. Our critics expect us to keep pace with change. Perhaps it’s time for a self-assessment. How flexible are you to your clients’ needs? We should stand at the forefront of the business dealings of our organization. Maintaining a culture of accountability goes a long way toward reaching that goal.
Take little steps, grasshopper. They lead to great ones.
Frederick Marks, CPPO, VCO, is a retired purchasing officer who has held positions as a supervising buyer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as director of material management for Northern Virginia Community College. Contact Marks at [email protected]