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I am traveling this week – first to Orlando for the NASUCA (National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates) and NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) meetings then to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, for UTC’s Industrial Internet of Things Workshop.  We’ve worked with the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) to dovetail our workshop with one of their meetings and look forward to this opportunity to work more closely with them. I do not look forward to the 60-degree temperature fluctuation from Orlando to Ottawa, but I’ll be inside most of the time, right?

Just before I left on Veterans Day Sunday (thank you to all veterans – including our own Karnel Thomas of UTC, my dad and brother), I requested that my horse, Ginny, be moved to a different field because she is recovering from a minor injury and needed to recuperate without the danger of slipping. Side note: it is close to the rainiest year on record in the D.C.-area, so the ground is sodden. My barn manager responded with an almost hostile, begrudging attitude implying that my request was unfair to the other horses, even though it was a temporary ask to ensure a speedy recovery. Note that the barn manager’s job is to prioritize the well-being of the horses and be responsive to the boarders, like me, who pay a monthly fee for boarding/feed. Unfortunately, in the case of my barn manager, the barn owner has been reluctant to listen to boarders concerns and, when those concerns have been relayed, she has sided with the barn manager. So, no recourse for the boarders. As a result, people are leaving – which should be a clue for the barn owner.

Needless to say, I will be moving barns.

You may wonder why I even relay this story; The answer is because this is a classic example of how a complete lack of accountability can enable poor performance. Granted, some individuals will do a good job even without direct accountability, but I would argue that is the exception rather than the rule.

This situation is common in every aspect of our lives – businesses, churches, even families. I sometimes have a hard time remembering to hold my kids accountable for a transgression they made – I promise to take away YouTube time or something else and then get busy and forget to enforce the punishment.  Not good.

At UTC, we have instituted project management tools and other processes, including the concept of mutual accountability that doesn’t just flow vertically via managers and direct reports, but also horizontally among functional areas and people work on projects that cross-cut groups. Still, it is hard to be consistent for a host of reasons, including 1) sometimes difficult conversations are needed; 2) it requires a lot of organization to keep track of action items and who is in charge of what/when, especially when the action items are outside of regular projects that have clear deadlines; 3) if buy-in and clarity isn’t established early on, the back-end accountability can be hard to parse through; 4) sometimes we don’t want to own our mistakes because we fear how doing so will reflect on us (note I said “we” not “they” – I still have work to do as well). However, despite these challenges, we are making a lot of progress and will continue to work on it.

But what about when the lack of accountability is a company trait or a systemic issue in government? At least in our democratic government, we have checks and balances in most places, but there are pockets – in businesses and in government – where accountability is sorely lacking. For example, some industries have consolidated such that monopolistic behavior is the norm, and, unlike the utility industry, there is no regulatory oversight at all, therefore they don’t have to answer to, really, anyone but themselves. Some federal regulatory agencies who are supposed to oversee these industries also seem to operate with little accountability.  What can happen with little accountability? Decisions on spectrum and pole attachments that only benefit one sector of our economy while negatively impacting the critical infrastructure industries—including utilities—who empower and enable our lifestyles.

The bottom line is…this lack of accountability in key businesses and government is bad for our economy and for our democracy. I look forward to developing ways to establish “mutual accountability frameworks” for these entities. Until we meet again.


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