Friday, October 30, 2009

100% Responsibility

If you search the Internet for articles on the concept of 100% responsibility you will find many entries that talk about taking responsibility for your own life, or how managers and leaders are always 100% responsible for the organization's results.  These are good ways to view 100% responsibility, but I don't believe they get to the heart of the true meaning.

This concept was first introduced to me by Robin Reid, an organizational development consultant who worked with my organization in the 1980s (see note below).  As our management team worked through this concept with Robin, there was a great deal of push-back and resistance.  Managers didn't like the concept.  It flew in the face of how they viewed their role in the organization. 

However, in my experience, this concept had a huge impact on me and how I approached my role as an employee, manager, and leader in my organization.

The concept itself is relatively simple:
  • We are all (employees, managers, leaders) 100% responsible for our organization's success, products, and results.  
"How can that be?", I hear you say.  You are thinking, "I am only an employee.  I am not responsible for the final product.  I am not responsible for the output of other departments.  I am not responsible for decisions made by the board, or council.  I am only responsible for my own actions."  And, these statements are, in part, true.

But, consider an extreme situation.  You are in a car that is headed over a cliff.  The driver is oblivious to the problem.  Do you blithely head off into oblivion, or do you pull the hand break? My guess is that you would feel a certain sense of self-preservation (responsibility), and might do something to prevent your ultimate demise.

In this admittedly extreme example, you are a passenger, not the driver.  But, your status as a passenger does not preclude you from acting when the situation calls for it.  The driver has the primary responsibility for the safety of the journey, and this responsibility is not changed in any way by your responsibility as a passenger.  The driver's job is to operate the controls; you cannot operate the controls for the driver.  But, when things begin to go badly, you have the right to express your concern.  You have the right to influence in whatever way you can.  And, in the end, you have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the occupants of the car.

Your expression of concern, and ultimate action, may cause conflict later.  However, there are long term consequences that are important enough to allow for a little conflict.

Responsibility is not something that can be divided easily.  When I am only 50% responsible for the outcome, I can do what I think is proper, and still have the project fail.  I can feel good that my part was done perfectly.  But, if my responsibility stops when I hand off to the next person in the chain, doing my part 100% right is little comfort when the end product is flawed or broken.

I may not be the one who "operates the controls" for all stages of the production or project, but my concern should be similar to that of the passenger in the car.  When things are not going well, I have a duty to participate in getting the system back on track.  My feeling of responsibility does not diminish the responsibility of the other people involved in the project.  Each person is responsible for his or her contribution to the whole.  And, if each person feels ownership in the final product, we are more likely to work as a team, welcome the help of others, and strive for a successful outcome instead of simply the success of one person's portion of the project.

On a deeper level, this acceptance of full responsibility, to be "...accountable for all the implications of our actions [or inactions] grows directly out of accepting the fact of our free will." (Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block, Freedom and Accountability at Work, P. 78-79)   Responsibility is a choice.  Our choice to speak up when we identify something that requires the attention of others, or to remain silent and tell ourselves that "it wasn't our fault" is exactly that, a choice.  Our decision to speak up does not diminish another person's responsibility to carry out their job in a responsible manner.  But our decision to act expresses our ownership of the result, not just pieces of the system.

A decision to be 100% responsible is something anyone within the organization can make.  And, every time someone makes a decision to be 100% responsible, for ownership of the result, everyone wins.

Note: Robin Reid gives credit to Hyler Bracey, from The Atlanta Consulting Group, for introducing him to the concept of 100% responsibility.  I can find no Internet site for this organization, but I did find a link and reference to Hyler Bracey, author of Managing from the Heart.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Decision Making Continuum

In your role as manager, one of the quickest ways to cause confusion within a group, team, or organization is to make assignments or establish goals without being clear on how decisions related to that assignment or goal will be made.  If you have a team that is high performing, filled with enthusiasm, and hard-charging, you can change all of that by pulling the decision-making-rug out from under them just when they think they have the project under control.

To avoid this problem, as you work with others make it a point to get clear up front on how decisions related to the task at hand will be made.

Here are a few tips for getting clear on which decision making style might be appropriate for a given situation:

  • Now Hear This
    • Manager Role: The final decision has been made.  Provide Information. Facilitate limited discussion.
    • Team Member Role: Ask for clarification as required.  Limited input.
  • Trial Balloon
    • Manager Role: Discuss tentative decision that has already been made.  Ask for reactions and suggestions.  Make final decision. (The decision may change based on the discussion.)
    • Team Member Role:  Provide reaction and suggestions.
  • The Buck Stops Here
    • Manager Role:  The final decision has not been made.  Present the issue.  Ask for ideas and suggestions.  Make final decision.
    • Team Member Role:  Provide ideas, suggestions, and alternative solutions.
  • Coach
    • Manager Role:  Ask the team to help create a decision.  Present the issue.  Define resolution boundaries.  Facilitate problem solving and/or analysis session with the team.  Approve final decision resulting from the discussion.
    • Team Member Role:  Participate in problem solving and/or analysis session with the team.  Generate recommended solutions as a group.
  • You Tell Me
    • Manager Role:  Present the issue.  Define resolution boundaries. Approve the final decision as long as it fits the defined boundaries.
    • Team Member Role:  Participate in team-facilitated problem solving and/or analysis session.  Team generates recommended solution and course of action.
As you move from "You Tell Me" to "Now Hear This" in the decision making model, employee involvement is reduced, and manager involvement is increased.

You might note that there is no case where the employee or manager is totally absolved of responsibility in making the decision.  In "You Tell Me" the manager is still expected to establish boundaries and approve the final decision, although that decision may be more ceremonial in nature.  In "Now Hear This" the employee retains the obligation to ask clarifying questions and understand the decisions that are being made.

Establishing the decision making style early will help avoid problems later.  Also, maximum empowerment will be found in groups that know how decisions will be made.  A quick way to kill the feeling of empowerment is to change decision making styles midstream, shifting to a more manager-controlled style.


Please note, this material is based on the work Gary Winters did with my organization in the early to middle 1990s.  Gary and Eric Klein have since gone on to author a book called To Do or Not To Do - How Successful Leaders Make Better Decisions, published in 2005.  I have not read the book, but I do know Gary Winters.  And, knowing him, I can assure you that you will find a complete and understandable discussion of decision making therein.  You may also want to check out Gary Winters' blog, The Leadership Almanac, at