Integrity and Accountability: We All Have a Role to Play!

1 October 2015

by Emmanuelle Lacroix

Former HR Services Manager at CHS Alliance

Em Lacroix, HR Services Manager at the CHS Alliance, looks at ways of demonstrating and modelling accountability and integrity and ensuring good people management practices are in place.

Each year, autumn offers a series of interesting events and conferences, from our partners as well as from the CHS Alliance. I recently attended two very interesting workshops whose overarching focus was on leadership in challenging times.

The first workshop was organised by our colleagues at CiC and was facilitated by role-play actors. Although participants did not take part in role plays, the workshop was very participatory and active. We embarked on a very dynamic and captivating journey to explore the skills and behaviours needed to build emotional resilience to help us to defuse conflict in the workplace. The use of role play really helped participants get into the scenario, connect with our own experiences and emotions to reflect on what we would and should do when facing such situations.

The second was the RES Forum’s Symposium and in particular a presentation on risk management and corporate responsibility from Nick Leeson, known as the “original rogue trader” whose unchecked risk-taking trading activities led to one of the biggest financial scandals of the 1990s.

These events reminded me that we can always learn and reflect from very different situations, no matter how remote they may seem to be from our sector. They also highlighted to me that accountability and integrity are the responsibility of all staff – not just senior management.

We all have a role in making our organisations more effective and accountable – and this requires emotional resilience, integrity and the ability to innovate and take risks. Organisations also need to provide the right systems and culture to support these effective behaviours.

Most – if not all – of us have had to deal with tricky situations at work, and might have let our emotions prevent a quick and effective resolution. Changes and uncertainty are given features in many sectors, including ours, and often lead to stress and tension. When under pressure to respond to emergency situations or deliver to tight donor deadlines and requirements or moving goal posts, it is easy for managers to push their action plans forward, leaving collaboration and participatory approaches to a later time. Likewise, staff might either refrain from taking risks or display risk taking behaviours – both kinds of behaviour hold the potential to harm not only themselves but the whole organisation.

How can we handle these situations in the workplace while demonstrating and modelling accountability and integrity, and ensuring good people management and leadership practices are in place?

Know what motivates and engages your staff

This also means understanding the team dynamics and interdependencies, the individual work profiles (e.g. is there someone in your team who applied for your role that could be resentful?), the preferences and the no-go in terms of the managerial tools to avoid team fragmentation (e.g. suggesting a team Friday drink after work or a team building event over the weekend might not work for everybody or every context). Fragmentation is a cracked ground for all sorts of wrong behaviours to occur without anybody being held accountable to it.

In short, get the intelligence to identify the skills, expertise and interests within your team.

Listen – really listen – and be there when you do

When you join or take over management responsibility for a team, start by listening and get to know people individually as much as possible. Create enough space for absorption as part of your on-boarding period. Then you can move to collaborative and informed planning and delivery.

Acute listening can be tiring, when done genuinely, so acknowledge this and carve the right amount of time in your days for it.

Take your responsibilities as leader but remain humble

If facing resistance or conflict from members of your team, you have to make the difference between raw emotions and constructive feedback. Be confident and humble, show empathy (especially when trying to defuse tension or aggression, and your body language needs to reflect your spoken words) and acknowledge your fears.

The workshop facilitator shared a great coaching question to help create some self-awareness: reverse the role and ask yourself how you would manage you in this situation?

Good leadership is not about “know-it-all”

Some of your team members have more experience than you on some sides of your programmes? Good, this is why they were hired – you are here to set the scene, provide strategic vision and ensure the knowledge held within your team serves the purpose and mission of the organisation. Don’t hesitate to tell your team you also want to learn from them and then be deliberate about creating opportunities to make that happen.

Empowerment comes from taking control

If the situation is deteriorating, take control of the environment and allow the individual(s) to do so too so ownership of the resolution process is shared. Don’t avoid the issue hoping for it to pass, don’t let it spread within the team further and be intentional when communicating about it. Identify and agree on actions that provide quick wins to address the situation.

If the situation requires external mediation or support, then reach out for it, may it be via your line manager, your Human Resources (HR) team or other support mechanisms available within our organisation.

Learn from success and failure similarly

As individuals and organisations, we need to be able to create a space to reflect and learn from mistakes, and share it widely. This is also an enabler for greater accountability. This means to expect people to make mistakes but not hide them (and expect does not mean encourage!).

Organisations ought to create and support an environment for staff to innovate and take calculated risks but not to be left on their own to face the results of their actions. Staff must also be able to operate within an environment where they can voice their concerns or doubts, or challenge constructively and intelligently what they feel is not right. And where they know these concerns will not only be heard but more importantly addressed.

Nick Leeson shared one of the key sayings from his time in the banking world: KYC (“Know your customer”).  The one we ought to stick to is more like KYP – Know your people! And work with them, care for them. Only then can we be truly accountable and efficient.