Jo Geraghty


You can’t delegate responsibility

Date added: 10th Dec 2015
Category: Culture of conduct/ethics

Promoting a way of working which enables individuals to take personal responsibility for good conduct within a strong and positive culture.

Not my fault…somebody should do something…those are the rules…everyone is doing it…

The road to hell may be paved with good intentions but when it comes to business the road to organisational downfall is paved with abrogation of responsibility. When something goes wrong all too often we see blame being cast on other people or the culture, the leadership or industry norms. And when people try and make a stand for what they feel is right all too often they are treated as outcasts or censured for whistleblowing.

But in recent years the wind of culture change has been sweeping through Britain’s businesses and gradually in response to societal pressure the herd instinct which can lead to unacceptable behaviours is starting to move in a different direction. Admittedly, it’s being helped on by a measure of legislation. For example, in 2016 the financial services sector will see the introduction of the senior managers regime, the certification regime and new rules of conduct. Taken together these have been designed to hold individuals to appropriate standards of conduct.

Much has been written about these changes. There have been concerns raised about the way in which being held to account may affect attitudes and decision-making processes and levels of employee engagement. And indeed those concerns could be seen to be valid, if they were looked at on a purely individual level. But whilst the rules affect individuals, the behaviours and conduct which they seek to enforce should be an intrinsic part of organisational culture.

Promoting a culture of ethical working

Let me explain. If I am to behave ethically and prioritise the genuine needs of my customers ahead of my organisation’s profits then I can only do so effectively if the culture of my company promotes ethical working. It doesn’t matter how many rules are in place and how many times I am told to act ethically; if the culture is one of profits ahead of everything and if I’m targeted based purely on sales then my choice is to conform to unethical practices or to leave.

This is why although the senior managers regime looks to individual conduct, it is the underlying culture and conduct of the organisation which has to change first. In fact, ultimately it is the responsibility of the organisation to ensure that the right conditions are in place to enable its people to act appropriately. As Andrew Bailey, the CEO of the Prudential Regulation Authority, said when Raphaels bank were fined for outsourcing failures “you can delegate or outsource work but you cannot delegate or outsource responsibility.”

The same is true within an organisation. The leadership has a responsibility to employees, to customers, to investors and to the wider public to ensure that the culture is one which promotes good conduct and makes it easy for employees to behave in an ethical manner. You can’t delegate responsibility but you can promote a way of working which enables individuals to take personal responsibility for good conduct within a strong and positive culture.


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