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Friday, February 11, 2011

The System Inside

The question is not whether accountability is needed. The question is by what means.

The Reformers of Geneva understood that all humans have a "bent" to go astray. It comes naturally, whether we call ourselves Christians or not.

The propensity to sin is real. While some of us may have a propensity toward certain vices that do not affect others in the same way, we are all in the same boat. Even the apostle Paul called himself "the chief of sinners." There is no room for finger-pointing. As someone observed, the moment we point our finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at us.

The ramifications of the "sin problem" are huge in the work world. Although Colonel Sanders' recipe is an exception, not every recipe concocted in secret is good for business.

Fortune magazine named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years. What Fortune apparently did not know, was that Enron was more "innovative" than anyone imagined! Enron's "success" was sustained by an elaborate, creative and fraudulent form of accounting. This huge company, which employed 22,000 people, went bankrupt in 2001. In response, Congress enacted the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, in an attempt to keep such frauds from occurring in the future.

While accountability measures for the corporate world may be enacted by Congress, such legislation is ineffective when it comes to "personal secrets." The kind of secrets that don't even make it to the back room.

In the work world, safeguards are frequently put in place to discourage people from making bad choices. Requiring two signers on checks, having an independent auditor examine the books once a year, and turning in receipts with requests for personal reimbursements are common safeguards.

While such company policies are necessary, the most effective form of accountability is the self-imposed kind. No matter how many policies a business may put in place, there is no way to have a system of accountability that addresses every possibility for "going astray." The only system that can address it all is the system inside.

In their zeal to transform Geneva from "the smelliest city in Europe" to "a city set on a hill," the Reformers approached accountability in ways that produced unintended consequences that were...well...less than aromatic.

Self-imposed accountability, on the other hand, smells ambrosial.

More to come.

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