(I really should be at the piano but I find that there are few things on my mind this morning).
I find myself engaged in my fair share of conversations around accountability in various settings – particularly the Western world’s spin on it. That is, who can we hold accountable when something goes wrong? As I’ve blogged in the past, I personally think that individual accountability for team outcomes is a bit misguided. Debating “who gets called in the middle of the night” is truly missing the point. If you structure your organization in a manner such that individuals are solely accountable for team outcomes then don’t be suprised by the behavior that follows.
(As a leader, you are first and foremost a system designers and influencer. Don’t forget that.).
However, I do wonder what would happen if leaders spent half the time they spend debating who is accountable, actually promoting individual and team ownership in their organizations. Do individuals and teams feel ownership over their work, processes, techniques and outcomes? Or do they feel like their stuck simply following instructions? A means to an end? It’s not enough to simply talk about it, we need to intentionally create the conditions that actually support ownership at all levels.
Does your organization have a culture of ownership? What would a random survey show if you asked that question within your organization? How much time is spent discussing what needs to be done so that individuals and teams actually take more ownership? Nothing is a panacea and yet low ownership levels leaves a lot on the table.
Let’s focus more on a culture of ownership, maybe it’ll address our accountability problem.
(Now off to the piano…)
Is your organization highly centralized or highly decentralized?
Lean organizations are characterized by pushing decision-making to the “lowest” possible level. In the using the word “lowest”, I am just reflecting the hierarchy that exists in most organizations. What we’re really talking about here is ensuring that decision-making occurs where the work is actually happening. In order to enable this, the information also needs to be shared with the team(s) actually doing the work.
This is at odds with traditional work structures where people at the top were paid handsomely to have all the information and the peons were given such dumbed down tasks, that they didn’t have to do much thinking. Take a few minutes to study the history of industrialization. You may be surprised at what you uncover. Unfortunately, this “thinking” still influences the control structures of the average organization.
Even though in knowledge work, the “associate” is often a highly trained and educated individual (see Drucker), most organizations still create structures where all the important information is held at the top. You know, with Director X, VP Y or C-level exec Z. Nothing meaningful gets done without a decision being made by someone with a big title. Supposedly, those at the top are more informed and have more experience. Supposedly. The Taylorist mindset lives on; cloak and dagger style.
You can choose whether you want to work in organization like these. I made up my mind a few years ago that I wouldn’t except I was helping to the change that situation. You know why? I can’t stand to see so much human potential wasted.
Additionally, the delays introduced as a result of waiting for people at the top to make decisions impacts us economically (well except we’re a monopoly). Innovation is stifled, creativity pretty much killed. But someone still ends up with a fat bonus.
As a leader, how much decision making is centralized in you? How much decision-making is decentralized on your team? How much information is given to individuals and teams that enables them to actually make decisions? How many centralized boards and bodies does your organization have?
The greater the centralization the lesser the ability for the organization to scale and the more human potential is being wasted. The waste of human potential is such a sorry thing.
Are we are addicted to the old status quo? Could it be that all change initiatives we participate in are just a facade? Lipstick on a pig? Fun and games? Could it be that the way it is, is the way we really want it to be? I could get into examples but I’ve decided to protect the innocent today.
How can we tell? Well, change often implies that we enroll in some way new of thinking. A different set of values (supposedly) become important to us. We make decisions based on fresh set of principles.
I get that. So pray tell, how can we tell? Ask yourself this: what happens when things get tough? When things become uncomfortable? Do we revert to our old values and principles? Do our entrenched mental models step into high gear? What behaviors emerge? Old or new?
I often find in organizations (faith-based, social, work etc etc) that we talk a good game about how we want to change and how we intend to act differently. Unfortunately, our actions speak so loud that no one can hear what we’re saying (Jeff Van Gundy). Our behaviors are unchanged.
I’ve always believed that true change can only come about by assessing if our actions as invidivuals and groups are congruent with our (new) values and principles and then asking for help when they are out of wack. Change is hard. Good intentions are not enough. A lot of humility is required. The humility lacking in many of us.
Are we addicted to the status quo?