As you walk the halls of your organization and talk to fellow employees, do you ever hear complaints like these?
“I feel stuck because I can’t make decisions on my own.”
“I know what we need to do, but no one will listen.”
“I have little say in how I spend my time each day.”
“I’m waiting for someone to give me approval before I can proceed.”
Most of us know these feelings very well, and most of us have personal experience in what I would call a low autonomy organization like this one.
If autonomy in this sense refers to having the freedom to determine your own actions and behavior, a low autonomy organization is one where decisions are handed down from above and employees are expected to follow instructions, rules, or guidelines that limit their ability to think or make decisions for themselves. The end result is often a stifling bureaucracy where people are afraid or unwilling to take risks and managers wonder why nothing ever gets done.
Not only does this sort of environment sap morale and reduce efficiency and innovation, but it also makes it incredibly difficult for the organization to attract young, talented employees who have grown up in the freedom-based culture of the Internet and demand more autonomy than most organizations today are structured to provide.
But even if changing your overall top-down, bureaucratic corporate culture is beyond your control, you may be able to increase autonomy in your own corner of the organization through an informal process I refer to as The Freedom / Accountability Swap.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap
The Freedom / Accountability Swap is a simple, yet very powerful way for individual managers and employees in traditional control-based organizations to “think locally” and create islands of autonomy within their own teams by setting up freedom and accountability as a transaction to be negotiated.
The swap is not designed to reinvent the organization or management structure overnight, but instead is more of a stealth effort that allows you to build elements of a high autonomy culture without the core management philosophy of the organization being visibly threatened. In this sense, it is a relatively “safe” experiment for traditional organizations to try.
The hope is that if enough islands of autonomy are created within an organization, and the groups where autonomy is high are more passionate, motivated, and successful than those where autonomy is low, then the entire culture of the organization could become more autonomous over time.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap is based on a simple equation, born out of my experience working at open source technology leader Red Hat (you can read the full story here), that looks like this:
freedom + accountability = a culture of autonomy
In other words, in order to create a high autonomy culture, any increase in employee freedom must be matched by an increase in employee accountability for the actions and decisions they make with their new found freedom.
Give more freedom. Ask for more accountability in return. Simple!
So how would the Freedom/Accountability Swap work? Here’s one practical way to get started:
1. INITIATE THE SWAP Once a year, perhaps as part of an existing yearly performance or compensation review process, each employee and manager would schedule a meeting in which they would discuss that year’s Freedom/Accountability Swap (some organizations may want to do this conversation more often than 1x per year).
2. SHARE IMPRESSIONS Ahead of the meeting, both the employee and manager fill out a simple survey. An employee would report where they feel they have a lot of freedom and where they have little freedom. They would also report where they feel they are highly accountable for the results of their work and where they are less accountable. The manager would complete the same exercise, and employee and manager would share their answers with each other prior to the meeting.
3. MAP THE GAPS At the meeting, the manager and employee each share their impressions of where they see things differently when it comes to freedom and accountability. For example, are there projects, tasks, or deliverables where:
As they have the conversation, they “map the gaps” on a sheet like the one below so they can see where to focus their discussion:
The conversation should not just focus on where there are perception gaps, but should also cover the places where freedom and accountability are already the highest. In places where both are high, what is the reason why the “swap” works better? In places where the employee perceives freedom as low and the manager perceives accountability as low, what could be done to grant more freedom to the employee and what could the manager ask for in return?
Be sure that accountability is looked at from both the manager’s perspective and the employee’s perspective. It is just as important to discuss whether the manager is being held accountable as it is the employee—accountability works both ways—this is at the heart of the “swap.”
4. THE SWAP At the end of the conversation, the manager and employee should analyze each key project, task, or deliverable they’ve discussed and come to an agreement about what each side can offer that will increase freedom AND accountability for both sides.
5. REVIEW Over the course of the year, the employee and manager can use the language they developed in the swap as part of an ongoing conversation. This language may make it easier to discuss freedom / accountability issues as they arise in daily work.
Some organizations may want to take the Freedom / Accountability Swap even further beyond individual manager and employee relationships. It could easily be modified to work as a tool to create better relationships between groups in an organization as well as within groups. Leaders representing each group could have a similar dialogue, resulting in a Freedom/Accountability swap that improved the working relationships between these teams and increased autonomy on both sides.
Sound interesting? If you get a chance to try out a Freedom / Accountability Swap in your organization, I’d love to hear how it goes.
The Freedom / Accountability Swap was originally designed by Chris Grams, Susanne Ramharter, Laurence Lock Lee, Josh Allan Dykstra, Aaron Anderson as a “management hack” for the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX). You can read the full hack here. This post was originally written for the Human Capital Institute and is published here.
Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in two panel discussions at the Human Capital Institute’s Engagement and Retention Conference in Chicago.
I moderated the first panel on behalf of my friends at the Management Innovation Exchange. This panel featured the winners of the first Human Capital M-Prize: Lisa Haneberg of MPI, Joris Luijke of Atlassian, and Doug Solomon of IDEO. The Human Capital M-Prize competition, run jointly by HCI and the MIX, was designed to find bold ideas, stories, and innovations highlighting ways to unleash the passion of people within our organizations.
Lisa began by presenting her winning hack, entitled Start with a better question to create a better talent management system: the Talent Management Cloud. She made the case that the “old kind” model where engagement and retention are owned within the HR function is fundamentally broken. Because there are so many factors well beyond the control and influence of HR alone, responsibility for talent management must be the responsibility of the whole organization. I’d encourage you to go take a look at Lisa’s winning hack if you are interested in learning how to put her more holistic model into practice.
Next, Joris, who came in all the way from Sydney for the conference, took on the performance review– something he described (accurately in my book) as universally hated by both employees and HR people around the world. Joris shared his story of how Atlassian designed a kinder, gentler, more humane performance review system and rolled it out within the organization. You can read Joris’s original story Atlassian’s Big Experiment with Performance Reviews on the MIX.
Finally, since I make no secret of being an IDEO fanboy, I was excited to share the stage with Doug Solomon, CTO of IDEO. Doug shared his winning story, entitled The Tube: IDEO Builds a Collaboration System That Inspires Through Passion. Frustrated by so-called collaboration systems that IDEO found desperately lacking, they took on the challenge of designing their own, using a model based on facilitating person-to-person interaction more akin to Facebook than your typical knowledgebase or database-driven collaboration system. Doug also shared that a company called Moxiesoft has taken The Tube and turned it into a product, which I can’t wait to go check out.
At the end of the session HCI announced a new M-Prize, which will run from now through December 9th. This M-Prize is called “Encouraging the Gift of Leadership” and will be an effort to discover innovative ideas for how we can stimulate and support the development of “natural” hierarchies, where influence comes from the ability to lead, rather than from positional power within organizations. Have a great idea? You should go enter it on the MIX.
Later that afternoon, I participated in another panel where Katie Ratkiewicz of HCI shared the results of a recent survey regarding the relationship between career development efforts within organizations and overall employee engagement. I was joined on the panel by Stuart Crabb, Head of Learning and Development at Facebook, Russell Lobsenz, Director of Talent Development at Orbitz, and Cathy Welsh, SVP of Leadership Consulting at Lee Hecht Harrison.
I was particularly interested to hear Stuart’s comments regarding Facebook’s approach to career development. Basically, his thinking is that career development is primarily the employee’s responsibility (not the company’s) to drive, something that I expect was fairly controversial to many in the room (judging from the data shared in the survey), but which I couldn’t agree with more fully.
While I was excited to hear him say it out loud (because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be driven from the room tarred and feathered if I’d done it on my own), I did acknowledge that there were prerequisites for an approach where employees are accountable for their own career development to work. In my view, there has to be an entrepreneurial culture in place in the organization where employees have the freedom to explore new opportunities. I certainly felt we had those sort of opportunities while I was at Red Hat and it sounds like there is a culture based on freedom and personal accountability at Facebook as well.
I want to thank my new friends at the Human Capital Institute for a great day and some wonderful hospitality. Also thanks to my friends in the MIX community and especially Lisa, Joris, and Doug for participating on the panel. I’ll see all of you again soon!
At Netflix, the vacation policy is audaciously simple and simply audacious. Salaried employees can take as much time off as they’d like, whenever they want to take it. Nobody – not employees themselves, not managers – tracks vacation days. In other words, Netflix’s holiday policy is to have no policy at all.
This may sound like a recipe for disaster to you, but it hasn’t turned out that way for Netflix. In fact, as the rest of article highlights, not having a lot of corporate policies may be a fantastic strategy for engaging 21st century workers.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
One of the first things many new employees notice when they step inside Red Hat is how deeply held our corporate values are within our walls and how much they impact behavior within the company. The values aren’t just words to most Red Hat folks, and they show up in conversations and in actions on a daily basis. Today we probably take for granted that it has always been that way.
But it wasn’t. Back in 2002, I was one member of a team tasked with figuring out Red Hat’s corporate values. At that time, the company was still pretty small– about 500-600 employees.
I must admit at first I was pretty jaded about the whole corporate values business. The concept of corporate values made me think of those Successories motivational posters with a photo of a bear in the middle of a stream with a fish in his mouth and a word like “ACHIEVEMENT” in all caps at the bottom. Or whatever. Most corporate values systems didn’t seem authentic to me or were just plain lame.
The values team was made up of a cross section of folks from across Red Hat: Sean Witty, who did biz dev and M&A; Mark Cox, a security guru who is still at Red Hat; Jeremy Hogan, one of the original Red Hat community managers but who at the time was working in support; Paul Salazar, who I’ve written about before in this blog here; Jonathan Opp, who is still in the Red Hat brand team and did a lot of the original writing of the values descriptions; and myself.
We quickly decided we didn’t want Red Hat to end up with just some lame words to put on posters. We wanted to do this values stuff right.
Paul Salazar knew Jim Collins from Stanford, and encouraged each of us to read Collins’s book Built to Last (which is one of the Top 10 Books behind Dark Matter Matters). In it, Collins talks about the characteristics common to great, enduring corporations. According to him, the most important thing great companies shared was having deeply held values and core purpose. From the book:
Over the past few weeks, Gary Hamel has written two posts on his Wall Street Journal blog about his next book (the posts are here and here). The catch? He’s decided that he isn’t going to write another book. So instead, he published the CliffsNotes version of what he’d write if he was going to write a book, and started what he refers to as an “open source project” about the ideas, inviting people to add their thoughts and comments.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite bits that fit in really well with a Dark Matter Matters world view.
On what it means to be an adaptable company:
An adaptable company is one that captures more than its fair share of new opportunities… An enterprise that is constantly exploring new horizons is likely to have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. When a once successful company runs aground and starts to list, its most talented employees usually don’t stick around to bail water, they jump ship. A dynamic company will have employees who are more engaged, more excited to show up to work every day, and thus more productive… Adaptability didn’t rate very highly as a design criteria when those early pioneers set out to invent Management 1.0 a hundred years ago. But it’s essential now…
On the problems with big organizations:
Big things aren’t nimble. That’s why there aren’t any 200-pound gymnasts or jumbo-sized fighter jets… In a company comprised of a few, large organizational units, there tends to be a lack of intellectual diversity—since people within the same unit tend to think alike. Within any single organizational unit, a dominant set of business assumptions is likely to emerge over time. One way of counteracting the homogenizing effects of this groupthink is to break big units into little ones. Big units also tend to have more management layers—which makes it more difficult to get new ideas through the approval gauntlet. In addition, elephantine organizations tend to erode personal accountability.
Top management experts are now acknowledging the importance of creating forums and contexts inside corporations that allow peer review, transparency, and powerful natural hierarchies to flourish. Here’s one great post by Gary Hamel from earlier this year that Iain Gray pointed out today. We’ve had an open forum exactly like this at Red Hat for a very long time. We call it memo-list.
When any new employee comes into Red Hat, memo-list is one of the first great shocks to the system. Memo-list itself is not some technological marvel of a collaboration tool– it is just a simple, old skool mailing list where any Red Hat employee can post an email message that goes out to virtually every employee in the company. That’s 3000+ folks.
Memo-list has been a hot issue inside the walls of Red Hat since before I joined ten years ago. Folks tend to either love it or hate it.
Some people are shocked by the fact that any employee can publicly challenge a post by an executive or even the CEO in an email to memo-list (and they do). Some people are annoyed by the discussions that appear over and over, year after year. Some people view it as idle chitchat and a waste of time.
But some people view it as the backbone of the Red Hat culture. A place where the power of meritocracy is nurtured. Where the employees force transparency, openness, and accountability. Where peer review makes for better ideas (after all, given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow).
I love memo-list, warts and all (I think Gary Hamel would like it too). In my view, it is the single most important thing that differentiates the Red Hat culture from most other corporate cultures.