I’ve just started reading ‘Freedom and Accountability at Work’ by Dr. Peter Koestenbaum and Dr. Peter Block. The first few pages are so deeply entrenched in my mind that I have to share the message in the context of our business culture here in the United Arab Emirates. I’m afraid that the UAE’s claim to advancements in technology and business scope is just a bubble ready to burst. With the dawn of the new year, I am more determined than ever to relay a deep conviction about how to bring about genuine business growth through accountability in the workplace.
My conversations with a potential client bowled me over as I contemplate my own vision for year 2016. A top-level manager of a multi-billion dollar local company approaches me in desperation because the owners simply don’t want to face the fact that their organization will cease to exist in 5 years. The ownership believes that the company is doing fantastic because of the sheer bottom-line numbers and quantities of product they sell. The feedback from the managers who run the show fall on deaf ears, even after numerous reports are handed over to the owners about issues of losing talent, unethical practices with stealing, no systems that support the business, and absolutely no succession plan for the future. These issues do not sound important to the owners because shockingly, they had closed down another company before and simply started up this new one as a result of the very same issues. Now the Managers are traumatised by the thought of this ordeal happening all over again.
Koestenbaum and Block in their book offer a thesis that states (this is not verbatim) in my interpretation:
“True accountability comes from realising that you are truly free to choose, and that blaming your family, culture, or environment happens when you want to escape your freedom, and with it escape your accountability.”
My question to these two wise men would be in the context of this situation I came across, which is all so common here. The top-level manager came to me with his concern that the owners gave the people too much freedom which lets them do whatever it is they like. If this is truly the case, why aren’t these people accountable for promoting positivity in the company? Although I haven’t read much into the book yet, I bet the answer lies in the fact that the owners do not harbour any sort of vision or direction for the organization. Freedom without any vision is quite wasted, which then absolves the employee of any accountability whatsoever.
Indeed it is difficult to consult with such an ownership team, who believe that they will never have to pass the baton on to the next line of leaders. I’ve always maintained that top support is crucial to any change effort. Even so with this situation, I resolve to be optimistic and believe something positive is always possible. The fact that this Manager approached me with the hope that something could be done is proof enough, and when I ask him what makes him stay on in the company he says “The hope of change”.
In the business context of the UAE, this situation is very common. Top ownership perceives employees as replaceable entities “just get another person in there tomorrow” kind of thinking, with no conscience as to how the system gets affected. The common blame-game explanation is that “Dubai is a hub, people come in and out all the time just to make a fast buck.” That may be true but there needs to be a realisation that organisations are nothing more than the actions of the people in them, and different people commit to different actions which certainly affects the organisational system significantly.
You are condemned to be free to act and make choices. Unfortunately for this particular corporation, the ownership team will likely choose to shut down when things get out of control and simply start a new company the day after like nothing ever happened. I guess the irony of it all is that they are freely exercising their will and choice in this matter.