The New York Times today published an investigative report by David Segal on J.C.Penney's fantastic 2010 performance in organic search engine results, which helped boost online sales. However, this performance turned out to be largely the result of an agency's extensive black-hat search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, far out of Google's compliance zone. Consequences from Google's Web spam team followed.
This story doesn't reveal anything new about the SEO black-hat underworld, thought it's a good primer for the mainstream. The real story has to do with leadership. Sure, it's critical to 1) have a policy against SEO black-hat tactics, and 2) ensure that policy is adhered to by employees and extended agents. But you can easily replace the action of black-hat SEO with any other company function or behavior. And it happens all the time. Which is why it's so important for all leadership teams to nurture a culture of accountability and operational guidelines and policies that span all stakeholders within and adjacent an organization.
It would be great to see a new, practical, investigative case-study series on creating accountable organizations in an increasingly open, networked, virtual and global age, where conventions of oversight and compliance don't apply like they did in the past. How do you align and operate with loose subsidiaries, independent contractors and even frenemies (partners who also are competitors). What about when you're dealing with highly arcane, technical areas that few understand? It's a ripe topic to cover from myriad perspectives, such as leadership, strategy, innovation, law, technology, marketing, human resources, etc.
Where are you seeing conflicts of accountability emerge in our networked age?