Creating an Accountability Framework to Support Performance Measurement
Article by: Rocky J. Dwyer, PhD, FCPA, FCMA
An Accountability Framework should be the product of deliberate and strategic –decision-making, based on an understanding of the organization, its objectives, operating environment and culture. In the past, accountability referred largely to the processes followed, the inputs used, and the outputs produced. This focus was consistent with the more traditional view of accountability, emphasizing what could be controlled, and assigning corrective action when things went wrong. However, more recently, there has been an important shift in the notion of “accountability.” Today, there is a real expectation that an organization’s management cadre will firmly establish links between activities and outcomes (i.e. attribution of an initiative to outcomes realized); however, meeting such an expectation is a significant task.
With a paradox of performance measurement acknowledged in the literature, there are significant technical problems associated with disentangling the specific effect of any initiative from other factors that might contribute to those outcomes; keep in mind that good performance measurement /accountability framework is an exercise in storytelling. First of all, successful accountability framework requires that an organization’s leadership acknowledge there is an element of judgment. Furthermore, there is a need to acknowledge the limits of both the chosen indicators and the evidence for those indicators. Thus, a well-developed accountability framework enables the organization to tell a convincing story, which is backed by credible evidence, about the value added by the initiative to some particular segment of the organization’s stakeholders.
By and large, accountability frameworks and the performance measures therein derive their meaning from high-level outcomes. For example, when an initiative has several high-level outcomes, some of which may be in opposing directions, how is performance measurement possible? Many experts articulate clarity is a key touchstone; which requires the management to ensure framework provides direct clarity in relation to high-level outcomes.
After 35 years of developing accountability level frameworks, and taking into consideration best practices, in my opinion, there are four organizational implications of accountability frameworks which drives performance measurement. First, if a true performance measurement regime is established, it implies the organization has a focus on performance and outcomes rather than on process or outputs. Second, there is a willingness by the organization, and its leadership to be evaluated at both an organizational and a personal level. Third, there is a focus on continuous improvement so that performance measurement is linked to the development and adjustment of new programs initiatives and resource allocation. Fourth, there is greater transparency, and accountability to both internal and external stakeholders.
So for those organizations that wish to position themselves as a leader in performance measurement and accountability, its Accountability results-based Framework should incorporate the following simple rules.
Relevance – to ensure decisions reflect the primary objectives of the organization (a boundary rule and exit rule);
Utility – to ensure that the organization’s management can use the framework to explain their initiatives to stakeholders and to institute sound performance measure approaches and manage for results (a how to rule);
Shared Ownership – decisions taken will meet the needs of all stakeholders and, with the active involvement of organizational management, ensure that the information needs of managers, as well as formal organizations accountability requirements are met (a priority rule);
Transparency – to ensure all stakeholders understand what results are expected, as well as how and when they will be measured (a boundary rule);
Decision and Action oriented – to ensure that information needed by all stakeholders is available when required for key decisions (a timing rule); and
Flexibility – to respond to the ever changing environment and context in relation to the organizational initiative (a timing rule).
By developing simple rules, organizations could develop a more flexible and responsive accountability framework that offers management a more effective basis for decision making. In addition, such a process could also be incorporated into senior management accountability accords, thus supporting the concept of managerial accountability for achieving results, ensuring unbiased analysis and for shoring both good and bad performance. Over time, managers could implement the framework on a more “border-less” basis in partnership with other key stakeholders and partners.
About the Author
Rocky J. Dwyer, PhD, FCPA, CPA, FCMA CMA is a Professor at Walden University’s College of Management & Technology. He is an award winning writer, editor and educator, who has consulted and undertaken research for private, not-for profit, and public sector organizations to examine and validate strategic organizational capacity, and performance management. His research has been published and presented at conferences and symposiums in Canada, the United States, South America, Germany, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.