Private-Company GAAP: Another Set of Standards to Ignore?

If a "little GAAP" were developed for private U.S. companies, key stakeholders would likely ignore it. Here's why.

Over the past year, a blue-ribbon panel has been working to solve some of the problems associated with private-company financial reporting in the United States. The panel has focused on the current process by which the Financial Accounting Standards Board sets generally accepted accounting principles. What the panel has tentatively concluded is that a new standard-setting body should define a “little GAAP” for private U.S. companies by specifying extensive exceptions to existing GAAP.

Unfortunately, the panel has not addressed the significant risks associated with this solution. As I have explained in previous columns, attempts to implement the panel’s recommendations are likely to backfire unless more attention is paid to risk management.

In this column, I’ll focus on the second of four key, unaddressed risks: solution-acceptance risk. I’ll also explain how this risk can be mitigated through a more-realistic approach to problem-solving.

What Is Solution-Acceptance Risk?

Solution-acceptance risk is a type of goal-setting risk. Specifically, it is the risk of defining a target solution that will be ignored or rejected by stakeholders whose acceptance of the solution is necessary for the subject problem to actually be solved.

It’s natural to assume that stakeholders will automatically embrace a given solution — even a solution that isn’t well suited to their problems. Thus, solution-acceptance risk is distinct from solution-suitability risk, which is another type of goal-setting risk, as explained in my previous column.

Stakeholder acceptance of any proposed solution depends on three critical factors. To the extent that these factors aren’t present, there is risk that stakeholders will ignore or reject the solution.

Pounder Dec 21-2010

The first critical acceptance factor is the existence of “someone in charge.” In other words, is there an individual, organization, or coherent group of individuals/organizations that could compel stakeholders to accept a particular solution through some combination of rewards and penalties? If not, stakeholder acceptance isn’t likely.

The second critical acceptance factor is uniformity of stakeholder needs and capabilities. The less uniform stakeholder needs and capabilities are, the less likely that a single solution will be uniformly accepted.

The third critical acceptance factor is the active, intimate engagement of stakeholders in the development of any potential solutions to their problems. To the extent that change agents seek to impose a solution on stakeholders without engaging those stakeholders in the solution-development process, the likelihood of success is low.

Absence of Critical Acceptance Factors

With regard to the solution that the blue-ribbon panel is about to formally propose, none of the critical acceptance factors are present. Consequently, solution-acceptance risk could not be higher. Yet the panel has not formally acknowledged or addressed this risk. As a result, its solution is likely to be completely ignored by the very stakeholders it is intended to help.

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