Volkswagen – Off The Accountability Bus

Sam Blog

With the discovery that Volkswagen installed software in 11 million cars designed to only fully engage the emissions system when being inspected, one has to wonder how a company exists without accountability.

You can’t lie, cheat and steal your way to accountability. Volkswagen lied about their cars emissions and performance, they cheated their customers and society as a whole as their cars pumped pollutants into the air and they stole money from their investors when they had to set aside $7.3 billion to resolve the problem.

Accountability is keeping your commitments to people. Volkswagen didn’t keep their commitments to their customers or their investors, and their employees suffered by a lack of commitment to them as well. How does this happen? It happens when an environment exists that doesn’t value accountability. Where values like honesty and integrity don’t exist.

When organizations are driven by greed rather than serving the needs of their stakeholders a result is achieved. That result is never the best possible product or the best possible service. That result is only focused on the short-term bottom line. However, reality is that the bottom line will always be best served in the long-term when people are best served in the short-term. It is a truth that has been proven over time.

Values appear in a company when leadership identifies them, models them and teaches them. Values empower people to make decisions in a consistent manner. When the people in a company know that, “This is how we do it here” they are able to do what’s right and operate with confidence. Without positive values anything goes and you get 11 million cars based on a lie.

I hope that some of the $7.3 billion set aside to fix the cars and other efforts to win back the trust of customers is not spent on advertising but rather on investing in the time and space necessary to sincerely identify the type of organization Volkswagen wants to be, what they believe and value as an organization and to make sure that every single employee is included in that process and education. Only then can they change and get better.

Companies can be better. They can be accountable to all of their constituents, but they must take the time to understand what they believe, teach the values and make sure those values are lived and showing up in the company. Then they will be accountable.