The concept of accountability exists in many forms, eachcaptures dimensions of meaning approached in different contexts. Much of theacademic literature on accountability suggest various interpretations andaddress different dilemma and crises which makes accountability remains elusive(Boven, 2010). For this literature review, I will be focusing on the perceptionof being accountable relatable to the case analysis of Wells Fargo.
The topicsthat will be discussed includes relationship between accountability and ethics,accountability as a mechanism and how it affects performance.Bovens,(2010) in his study of accountability as a mechanism emphasise the obligationof an actor to explain and justify his or her conduct to a forum. Thisrelationship between an actor and a forum is closely related to the principaland agent concept. In relation to the concept, Bovens introduced three stageswhich forms the crucial element of accountability. First, the actor must haveself-respect and feel obligated to notify the forum of his or her actions by explaininghow the tasks are performed and proper procedures taken in doing them. In anevent where there are failures, actors are expected in providing explanationsand justifications.
Bovens also raised question as to whom actor should renderthe account to. This provides guidance to actors on types of forum they arerequired to render account. For instance, public institutions are required toinform to various forums including stakeholders and the public. Nature of theobligations is also one of the important aspects.
This includes hierarchicalrelationship in which employees are obliged to answer the orders of those inhigher ranks, and also a contractual agreement. Secondly, it should be possiblefor the forum to engage in questioning about the details of informationprovided by the actor to seek relevance of the conduct, which implies that’accountability’ is also associated with ‘answerability’. The third stage heproposed is the power of the forum to give a decision concerning the actor’sconduct.
The forum will determine whether to approve or reject accounts of theactor. Where a negative judgement is involved, Bovens (2010) suggest that the’possibility of sanctions’ should be added to the element of accountability asa mechanism because it ‘makes the difference between the non-committalprovision of information and being held to account’.Therelationship between accountability and ethics was discussed by Dubnick (2003)where he classified accountability into four distinctive features which areanswerability, blameworthiness, liability and attributability.Accountability-as-answerability described role-specific response expected fromactors based on their position in the organisation. The ethical choice linkedto this accountability type rely on external signals, where consequences ofone’s action is the main concern.
Next, accountability-as-blameworthiness focuson one’s status. A person who is in a position of power and influence in anorganisation, particularly for a specific role such as the Chief ExecutiveOfficer, is held accountable for every action of the company. Hence,establishment of credibility, be it individual or organisation is pivotal forblame avoidance.
In contrast, accountability-as-liability posits law as aneffective way in establishing control of one’s actions. Here, accountability isfocus on actor who directly did the act instead of his status or role.Therefore, an ethical approach is for actors to engage in a reasoning processwhich considers legal standards.
Accountability-as-attributability on the otherhand associate between one’s personal and professional lives, which impliesthat behaviour in an individual’s private life will be reflected in his or herworking life. Kimand Lee (2010) focused their argument on how accountability has impact on workperformance. The demand for accountability in meeting expectations of multiplestakeholders is often conflicted with the struggle to balance work performance.Two models are introduced which are perceived high workload and job tensionwhich affect one’s performance as a result of accountability requirements.Evidence from the research conducted shows that compliance accountability hasnegative impacts on performance as it increases employees’ job tension andperceived workload. This is due to the accountability nature of compliancewhere actors are bound to follow contractual obligations.
This lead them togenerate sizeable paperwork and other required documents that increaseperceived workload. Consequently, significant positive relationship betweenhigh workload and job tension lead to reduced work performance. This in turnwill affect employees’ motivation in providing an efficient service. Incontrast, De Lancer Julnes (2006) believed that when accountability act as a toolto measure performance, it may reflect fear expressed by individual who isbeing held accountable, when it actually should serve the purpose of improvingservice delivery.
As a result, individuals tend to purposely change theirbehaviour according to the areas of appraisal to meet the performancethreshold. This might pose risk to an organization as employees might developmisbehaviour in achieving desirable outcomes and abandon company’s interest.