27th Aug. '12

When you become conscious, you become responsible

A post by Pia Ali-Tolppa

This is a story about four people named:
Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody’s job.
Everybody thought that Anybody would do it
but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when
Nobody did what Anybody could have done!


I sit in a central spot in our office. I’ve been told I’m approachable. HR is my area of responsibility, so people tell me all kinds of things about what happens in our company; stuff I’d never hear about in meetings. This includes a lot of essential information I can then pass on, but there are a lot of complaints, too:

”I’m very unhappy with my boss – I’ve never been offered any training.”

”The atmosphere in our team is poor and our boss is doing nothing about it.”

”The coffee machine has been on the fritz for a week! Why won’t anyone get it fixed?”

These are normal situations for all bosses. The expectation is that a boss, or ”someone somewhere” will do something about it. And when nothing happens, people become frustrated. But they don’t do anything about it themselves.

Almost all of us managers are also someone’s subordinates. What are our responsibilities as such? Are we responsible for our own motivation? Our own development? Things we see at work that could do with some improvement, even though they are not a part of our area of responsibility? Is the boss ready to delegate responsibilities? Is the subordinate ready to take it on?

We are all responsible for ourselves, our loved ones, the things we do. No one wants to be irresponsible, but at times we notice that accountability just vanishes; when things go wrong, it’s someone else’s responsibility and we tend to minimize our own share. Is this something our bosses are responsible for or should we perhaps look in the mirror? Where does responsibility go when we open the office door in the morning? When we spill coffee on the office floor, do we go get some paper and clean up after ourselves or do we see it as the responsibility of the cleaning staff?

It’s often said that responsibility weighs heavy on our shoulders. Sounds cumbersome! This is not how it should be. Taking responsibility should be rewarding. When we realize that we can all have an impact on our motivation, environment and what we get out of our job, our well-being at work increases and we are happier. The way we conceive of responsibility changes. Once it changes, people realize the significance of taking responsibility in their work and the way it can make them happier, we can carry our responsibility with heads held high. When it works, this kind of atmosphere is a very powerful resource for a company.

How do we make it work? It’s the responsibility of the boss to create the basis for the right kind of atmosphere where people dare take responsibility and have the courage to deal with grievances. Nowadays, when people complain to me about things, my first question is: Well, what are you going to do about it? I believe that if I keep doing this, I can slowly make a change. It’s important to get the whole organization to be a part of this process and that the nature of the desired change is clearly communicated: what kind of change do we want and why? We’ve done it this way. We even have a slogan we use: When you become conscious, you become responsible. Attitudes and culture are not changed overnight. It’s a lengthy process, but the fact that it is underway is important.

Pia Ali-Tolppa is CFO in  SEB Finland, where she is head of  all the business supporting functions.  Pia has 25 years of experience in different positions in the financial industry.




Leave a Reply

Share this site: