Building A Culture of Responsibility and Accountability In Nigerian Public Institutions (2)

Hello there!

Been a while since my last post. Somehow I got busy with several other things. Here’s the concluding part to my earlier piece “Building A Culture of Responsibility and Accountability In Nigerian Public Institutions”. Happy reading.

Building A Culture of Responsibility and Accountability In Nigerian Public Institutions (2)

We hereunder continue the discourse on the foregoing.

How To Achieve a Responsible and Accountable Public Service

One of the reasons the several reforms aimed at making the public service seem not to have yielded the desired results is that the solutions seem to have been quick fixes.  Unless and until Responsibility and Accountability become embedded within the public service, the challenges that face the public service will remain.

In otherwords, Responsibility and Accountability must become a culture.  What then is culture? What are the elements and characteristics of culture? How do we then begin to create and sustain a culture of responsibility and accountability? Let’s do this together.

Culture has common usage. The average Nigerian daily dose of news reports is filled with more of such expressions as “A culture of impunity” and “A culture of violence” and less of “a culture of excellence”.

There is a plethora of definitions for “Culture”.  Without going into the etymology of the word, we can explore some definitions:

1. “. . . the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”

2. ”. . . the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group”

3. “. . . the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”

4. “. . . the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization”

5. “. . . the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic”

6. “. . . the total way of life characteristics of members of a society including tools, knowledge, and patterned ways of thinking and acting that are learned and shared and are not the direct product of biological inheritance”

Characteristics of Culture

If culture is “the way things are done” amongst a group, we find that it has four features.

  • First, it rests on Symbols-By symbols, we mean refer to the media for storage and transmission of information.
  • Culture is Learned-It does not depend on biological inheritance
  • Culture is Shared-It is a system that is shared by members of a group considered collectively, rather than individually.
  • Culture is Integrated-The various components tend to fit together in such a way that they are consistent with one another, in spite of conflicts or frictions that may be present

The Relevance of Culture

Have you ever tried to stay within the speed limit when everyone around you is driving at speeds well over the speed limit? The behavioral norms of a group can strongly influence the behaviour of the individual.

Culture defines the behavioral norms (accepted behaviour) in a group, team, division or organisation. In turn, behaviour underpins the performance (what gets done, when it gets done and how it gets done) of the organisation and perceptions (reputation) of that organisation.

A supportive culture is one that embeds responsibility and accountability into day-to-day activities, where senior executives demonstrate through policies and actions that accountability is important. In such a supportive culture, challenges are shared openly, and discussed without fear of retribution.

How To Develop This Culture

  1. Ensure The Service Objectives Are Clear: Every public institution should have a Service Charter setting out the objectives it seeks to achieve through its services. All departments and units within the institution should have service charters that align with the global charter but broken down.
  1. Clearly Articulate Expectations: Once you have the service charter in place, it is important that expectations with regards to the charter are clear to departmental staff.  What exactly are you expecting them to do as part of the department? What are their roles in achieving the objectives set? You may want to enter into executed performance agreements with your subordinates in this regard.
  2. Define Who is Responsible: For the various activities and tasks, use a RACI     prompt to clarify responsibilities. Spell out who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who should be Consulted and finally, who should be Informed.
  3. Stick To Specifics – Make It SMART: Many in this forum would definitely have heard of smart goals, with the acronym SMART. SMART means that objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. I may not be a huge fan of all the elements of SMART, particularly the A and the R but it does make sense to work with specifics. In other words, there must be no room for ambiguity because ambiguity does not make for accountability.
  4. Provide Standards for Measurement: This follows from the M in the SMART already discussed and it stands for Measurability. If you’re going to hold someone accountable for certain outcomes, you must ensure that it is possible to measure the results of such outcomes In other words, there must be metrics in place.
  5. Make the Structure Simple: Whatever the structure of the organization, whether, functional, divisional, matrix, team or network, the key is to keep activities simplified for all. Errors are less likely to be made when processes, activities and tasks are simplified. More errors creates a culture of fear which leads to cover-ups and eventually, no accountability.
  6. Assign Timelines: Supervisors must make sure that activities and tasks are assigned timelines. How long does it take to go through a cycle of an activity before it is completed or finished? In any case, what do the expressions finished or completed mean? Use expressions like COB on 06/02/2013, Wednesday.
  7. Have Scheduled Follow-Up: As part of good practice, every employee should also have specific scheduled follow-ups that are on the departmental calendar, particularly for projects. As a leader you should hold them accountable for this follow up.  You need to make sure that they understand that is their responsibility to schedule a follow-up in your calendar and it is not your responsibility but theirs.
  8. Review What Has Been or Is Being Done: A critically important element of holding people accountable is to have a periodic scheduled project review. This project review can either be a one-on-one with you and the specific employee, or perhaps even a meeting with the team to have them review the project with the project leader, and to discuss what is going well what could be improved and what can be changed.
  9.  Insist on Updates and Reports: It is important to have subordinates and team members render periodic reports of what they do. Such reports could be pre-formatted so that they just fill in some information. Reports give you a bird’s eye-view of your department and if the parameters are right, can help you pin-point areas that need urgent attention
  10.  Apply Rewards and Sanctions: Have a periodic award for excellence. Too often, much of the awards that outsiders hear about in the public service are “Long Service Awards.’ Awards for longevity of service is good to encourage people to put in years of service but the underlying factor should be the quality of those years, the contributions to service improvements, initiatives undertaken, etc. Thus for a job well done or for a project successfully delivered, there must be a reward. This will engender a culture of excellence
  11.  Communicate! Communicate!! Communicate!!!

Without effective communication, nothing gets done. Keep it simple!

Key Catalysts

The key catalysts necessary for building an accountability culture are:

1. Building trust as the foundation: The four key elements of trust are Openness/transparency (giving and accepting feedback, transparency in decision making), Reliability (doing what you say you are going to do), Congruence (saying what you mean) and Acceptance (acceptance of others and acceptance of differences).

2. Engage your people: meaningful involvement with alignment. Remember you can’t truly and sustainably motivate another person but you can engage them. It is through engagement that motivation will grow.

3. Equipping your people through proper training, peer review, mentoring and knowledge sharing

4. Ownership: once the first three elements are in place people start to ‘take’ ownership – they start to think and act like owners.

Final Words

On a final note, it is important to state that the level of accountability is directly related to the level of trust, engagement and ownership that exists within an organisation.

We can begin to create the culture of accountability in our various departments. It will not be easy but things that require discipline are never easy.

We started this discourse with a question, “Why-Always-Me?”

We will end with a question also:



Why not me


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