Sometimes pithy phrases are actually helpful.

In a recent week-end edition of the Globe and Mail [a Canadian national newspaper], Harvey Schachter talked about four “A”s that are vital and thus important to every person within an organization.   Yes, they struck me as both obvious and somewhat simplistic, but when I re-read the piece I thought:  actually, he is right.  And these four “A”s merit regular repetition; each is worth keeping in mind and perhaps the alliteration – four As – is a helpful way to remember them. 

Quality work within institutions is marked by: 

Accountability.  Everyone – no exceptions – who flourishes within an institution is intentionally accountable to another person or board or entity; and this accountable is effective.  It is real accountability.  Everyone should be able to answer the question:  to whom am I accountable for the quality, character and timeliness of my work?  

Some people resent this.   They view accountability as either an imposition and almost an affront to their capacity to do their work.   Why should they be accountable to anyone, they wonder?     Others might speak of accountability but it is so general – a president says he is accountable to the “American people” [the US president is actually accountable to Congress, as a representation of the people; the Canadian Prime Minister is accountable to Parliament], or a pastor says he is accountable to the congregation. The problem is that the congregation has no real mechanism by which they can exercise this accountability.   It has to be a board.   And for those within an administration, one has to know:  to whom do I report and who then holds me accountable – a VP to the president, a director or program head to a divisional administrator.

Appreciation.   Walt Wright was the president of Regent College in Vancouver when I went there as VP and Dean.  And early on he noted:  part of our job is merely to say “thank you.”  And, when I am on my game, I make it a point to say thank you to someone in my organization every day . . . every day to recognize that good work is being done and making it a point to say “thanks” on behalf of the organization and our constituents for a job well done.  No flattery; no vague thanks for whatever.   Just a word of simple thanks for a contribution that reflected quality, diligence and attentiveness to the task at hand – ideally something that they contributed to the common good in the last few days.

Anger management.   We cannot work within organizations and not have those times when someone does something that is deeply disappointing – perhaps hurtful, perhaps even destructive, or maybe nothing more than this:  the failure or the wrong is simply that someone did what they perhaps had the right to do but it was not helpful and actually significantly limited your work or the mission of the organization.   Someone did not come through as promised and let you down.  It happens!   Wise women and men know that responding in anger can compound what has happened.  Anger is not wrong; but it has to be moderated and it has to lead to a right course of action.   Sometimes we just accept that while deserved we did not get the pay raise.  Or someone quit on us on short notice – a staff person did not show up to work when we needed them and we doubt they were really sick.   We deal with it; but the point is merely that our approach cannot include a loss of temper.

Adversity – we overcome it.   We will have setbacks – in every organization:   we do not meet budget projections; we make a judgement call on something and it becomes clear in time that it was the wrong move – the wrong decision and now we are scrambling to turn things right.  Failure becomes for us an opportunity to learn.  Adversity – not failure so much as having to face truly difficult challenge or some form of opposition that is not helpful – is part of the game:   we learn from it as well and learn the grace of patience and persistence.

Four “A”s . . . accountability, appreciation, anger (managed) and adversity (overcome).   Someone may be reading this and thinking:  each of these is obvious!   Except for this:  it is almost every day that one of these comes to mind for myself or for others.   And so, yes, it is helpful to keep them in mind.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.