Business Agility requires deep ownership and accountability so individuals close to the work and customers drive timely decision making and adaptations.
Ownership & Accountability means individuals and teams taking accountability for the quality and success of both the output and outcomes of their work. Both of these are important, as ownership doesn’t mean perfection. It means knowing why you are doing the work (the outcome) and making sure that what you produce (the output) is fit-for-purpose. Ownership is the state of mind where you feel fully in charge and do not give any excuses (or blame anyone else) for what needs to be done. It also means understanding, learning, and challenging rather than mindlessly following instructions.
Accountability is to be held to account for the fulfillment of your duties and responsibilities. Accountability requires answers and entails consequences. Accountability is not a feeling like ownership or responsibility, rather accountability is a process that is usually external. Someone holds you accountable, although a sense of ownership means that you will also hold yourself accountable as well.
In between ownership and accountability is responsibility. The strong internal feeling driving your willingness to perform your duties with total ownership. Responsibility isn’t unidirectional, though. Give individuals and teams the authority, autonomy, and accountability for an outcome. Organizations and leaders must be transparent about the strategic decisions that are being made. For an individual or team to be held accountable for their decisions, they must have the appropriate information so as to not make a predictably incorrect decision. This has specific implications in publicly traded organizations relating to insider trading regulations (e.g. knowledge of share price triggers) but many organizations have solved this conundrum.
In healthy cultures of business agility, individuals have a strong sense of ownership and responsibility. No one is waiting for someone else to do something. For such an environment to strive, accountability must be alive and well or else people that exhibit ownership and those that don’t will be treated equally. Similarly, think of accountability as creating personal growth rather than creating anxiety. If either case is not true, organizations will find themselves losing their best performers.
Your goal is to create empowered teams with accountability, authority, and autonomy to achieve business goals.
In order to be accountable, give teams the authority to make relevant decisions. To take authority, teams need clear and unambiguous goals, guardrails to prevent them from making avoidable wrong decisions, and access to all relevant information. It is also important for managers not to overrule their teams. While teams may make different decisions than their manager would, it is important that their manager supports them.
Align to Outcomes
In order to truly create the space for autonomous teams, change how you measure their success. Delivering a project on-time and on-budget is not “success” if the customer doesn’t buy it. Organizations that set output-based objectives masquerading as outcomes curtail the level of delegated ownership possible from the start. To change that paradigm, align the KPIs of teams and executives to product goals rather than project goals. As you mature, you can start to structure teams, and their KPIs, along customer outcomes.
Understand that autonomy doesn’t replace the need for leadership. An autonomous team still has a guiding vision and support from their leaders. Inside the team, start by developing confidence in each of the team members. Everyone needs to know what to do, how to do their job, who to align and coordinate with, and who to ask for help. Note, with organizations that cap their alignment to outputs as opposed to outcomes, teams can only ever reach autonomy regarding “How” but not the “What.”
Individuals feel ownership for the work they do and work with others to overcome unanticipated impediments. They are willing to challenge decisions if it will improve the quality of their work.
Individuals feel ownership for business outcomes. They are willing to challenge decisions and work plans if they feel it will improve the relevance of their work to the customer.
Teams will do whatever it takes to achieve an outcome in collaboration with the rest of the organization. They have the authority, autonomy, and agency to do that.
Teams drive their own responsibility for business outcomes and decision making. This contributes to, and shapes, organizational strategy.
Individuals understand what they are accountable for, but being held to account causes anxiety (regardless of intent).
Individuals understand what they are accountable for, and why it is important.
There is a balance between ownership and accountability. Accountability is seen as creating personal growth rather than creating anxiety.
Everyone in the company makes commitments that are visible to their managers and or peers. Consequences are visible.