Implementing accountability: lessons from Brazil

Helicopter image of Foz do Iguaçu
We facilitated a strategic planning meeting in southern Brazil. While there, we had the opportunity to visit IguaçuFalls, one of the great sites on the World Heritage List. IguaçuFalls has a flow capacity equal to three times that of Niagara Falls. It is also the site of Itaipu Dam, the largest generator of hydro-electric power in the world, located in the Parana river, between Brazil and Paraguay.

Our guide drove us out to visit the dam, the falls, and a bird sanctuary. Along the way, he was exceptionally careful to stay within the posted speed limit. His behavior differed from that of the other guides we’ve traveled with in other locations around the US and Europe. Why? Because there were significant consequences to exceeding the speed limit that fostered personal accountability.

First, there were speed bumps on the major roads every few miles. Since anyone speeding would knock the bottom off of his car, every driver was careful to follow the speed limits. The speed bumps led to automatic compliance.

Even without speed bumps, our guide continued to be very careful about obeying the speed limit in the park where the IguaçuFalls were located. I asked him why and he explained that the first time he got caught speeding in the park, he would lose his right to take tourists into the park for a full month. If there were a second violation, he would lose this right for life. (Losing access to the Falls would be the end of his career as a guide.) The consequences of breaking the law were dramatic enough to lead to automatic compliance.

When we visited the bird sanctuary, we were given stickers to put on our jackets. The stickers had the name of our guide, nothing else. Our guide asked us to be careful not to hurt any of the birds. If any sanctuary visitor hurt any of the park wildlife, the guide would be banned from bringing anyone else in. Our guide explained that he was careful to only bring responsible people to the sanctuary.

Establishing believable, enforced consequences is often more productive than policing detailed policies. For example, consider a simple expense reimbursement policy at your company under which all expenses have to be reasonable. When an employee abuses the policy, just don’t reimburse the expense. That will be the last time he books a suite at the Hyatt Regency rather than an equally available HiltonGarden room.

It always works better to tell people what they should do rather than give them a long list of things they shouldn’t do. Focus on the consequences of poor judgment. However, be careful. Don’t threaten a consequence that you are unwilling to enforce.

Establishing an environment supporting and promoting personal accountability is key to successful implementation of strategy. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us, by email or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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