Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Delegate governance to a quality management function

The way people make decisions at lower levels is deeply affected by the culture that cascades from the top level - by what questions are asked and what questions are not asked. The failure of Jacque Santer to set the right tone at the top of the European Commission led to his fall from grace.

You are responsible for the actions/decisions you are authorised to do/take yourself. You are accountable for the actions/decisions done/taken by your delegates. So, you are not directly responsible for a fraudulent procurement made by your subordinate, but you are accountable. That means you are responsible for ensuring the subordinate is governed by reasonable process of supervision. You become responsible if the supervision process is too thin or if you fail to react to information that process gives you.

Frankly, the principle of accountability is a huge drag on the entrapaneur, on the gambling manager. How can you be sure that your reign at the top is not brought to an end by an irresponsible subordinate? Does accountability really mean you have to supervise what your subordinates are doing?

There is a way out. Separate governance from management. Employ quality managers who are responsible for the processes that monitor and control your subordinates’ decisions and actions. But make sure they are not so competent that they are effective, and report things to you. So when things go wrong, you can blame the failure of your quality management organisation. Then show your bravery by calling for an 'audit' - that's what proper managers do isn’t it?

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