Fix these to Improve Accountability and Ownership

Fix these to Improve Accountability and Ownership

Many tiles of our verandah roof had broken, and the place was looking run down. Due to the pandemic, we had been putting off the repair work.

One morning when I stepped out, I found all broken and missing tiles replaced and the verandah looking beautiful. Later, I learned that the gardener, Ajay was working on them the previous day, and my husband assumed that I had instructed him to carry out the repair work. Guess what! I had not even mentioned it to Ajay. When Ajay came, I asked. He responded, “Madam, I had some time yesterday, not much work due to the rains. This was looking bad, and water is coming into the verandah, so I replaced them”. Ajay works as a gardener at our house, and this work is certainly not a part of his responsibilities!

What Ajay demonstrated here was a great sense of ownership. He perhaps felt empowered enough to source the tiles and fix them.

Often, business owners and managers voice their concerns about the lack of accountability and ownership in their teams. They would like to see Ajay like the sense of responsibility in each of their team members. Despite processes, command, and control, and incentivization in place, the ownership does not happen.

Here are some of the factors fixing which are likely to drive up team accountability and ownership.

  • Understanding and alignment with the purpose of the organization/project.

  • Clarity of self and other team members roles and responsibilities

  • Empowerment to hold each other accountable to meet the commitments made

  • Culture of appreciation and feedback

  • Clarity on Key Performance Indicators and linkage of employee’s responsibility/work with the same

  • Minimal and relevant metrics and data and cadence with rhythm around the KPIs

  • People with the right skills and attitude in jobs of their interest.

  • Provision for employees to develop new skills and capabilities

  • Trust and autonomy vs Micro-management and bureaucracy

What else would you add to the list?

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Our Tryst with Trust

Our Tryst with Trust

Ever wondered what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you describe a great organisation? We asked this question to our friends and colleagues and 8 out of 10 responses were ‘TRUST’. So without any doubt, trust is what we all expect in order to create awesome workplaces. A closer examination of this magical sounding word reveals that it is a complex combination of behaviours and human dynamics. Teams at the workplace are a lot like trapeze artists. When a trapeze artist is swinging at 50 feet above the ground, the only thing that makes her/him confident to jump is the trust on the co-performer. In fact, trust and communication go hand-in-hand. If you have noticed, the trapeze performers call out to each other when they are ready to jump or catch. That communication is absolutely critical in timing as well. Similarly, at work too, people make better commitments only when they can trust their co-workers. For trust to be woven as the fabric of any organisation, communication is the thread and this thread needs to be strong and long!


At the workplace, at first glance, it appears as though trust is all about behaviours such as being honest in communication, not fudging reports, not forging bills, not faking expense reports etc. While these are of course essential behaviours to establish trust in the workplace, these are insufficient to describe trust in its entirety. What we saw above constitute the trust of character. Other critical aspects of trust include trust of competence, judgment and intention. To understand just one aspect, say, trust on competence, let’s explore an example of how a manager assigns work to a team member. When a manager tells a team member every single step of what needs to be done and how exactly it needs to be done, or simply put, ‘micromanaging’, it conveys subtly an implicit lack of trust on the team members competence. Instead, an approach of introducing the big picture, and enabling team members to jointly arrive at what needs to be done by when and then allowing the team member the space to accomplish it the way she/he thinks is best, conveys trust. And this, in turn, leads the team member to put her/his brain to work, instead of blindly following instructions. In our conversations with many managers, we asked them the reason for micromanagement. The feeling is of fear of failure by the team members. One might then wonder what if the team member repeatedly fails to deliver. Even then the approach is not to micromanage but to identify a role that aligns with the team members competence with corresponding impact on compensation. A compromise on competency match is never a solution. If no role exists that suits the competence, then its best to part ways instead of filling the team with members that just follow instructions.


What we saw is just one example – organisations are replete with everyday interactions that are opportunities to enhance or decrease levels of trust. For example, status review meetings are forums that reflect levels of trust that exist in the organisation. Now let’s look at some of the common impacts of low levels of trust in an organisation. When there are instances of misuse of trust, the typical reaction of an organisation is to design and impose controls. While this may be the easiest and quickest thing to do, often the long-term impacts are detrimental. Controls reduce the pace of the organisation. Let’s take the example of Travel Policies. This is something one can easily relate to. organisations typically build cumbersome travel requisition, approval, expense report filing, another round of approval of settlement and audit processes. All this to prevent misuse by some. Is it fair to subject all the employees to this ignominy for the infraction of a small minority of employees? Such controls not only cause bitterness and make one feel small but sometimes are just silly. If one were to do a simple cost-benefit analysis and factor the cost of the time wasted by the traveller, cost of the audit/accounts team, etc, and compare it to the estimated loss because of misuse of the policy, one would find it hard to justify the need for such a control.


In fact, what about all the policies, controls and penalties at workplaces? Do we really need them to be implemented as controls or could trusting workplaces replace them with guidelines? There is a common misconception that to build a trusting workplace is to encourage mediocrity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A trusting workplace is a mirror of high accountability. In Semcostyle, we call this ‘Treating Adults as Adults’. As Ricardo Semler puts it beautifully – “Why is it that companies hire adults and when they join, impose boarding house rules such as when to come, what to wear, where to sit, etc and treat them like children ‘’? So, when we as leaders, practice the art of communicating the desired outcome and trust our colleagues to use their individuality in delivering, the result is bound to be unique. The missing element of trust would result in managers creating mere ‘lookalike photocopies’ of themselves without any originality! Isn’t that really mass production of mediocrity?

Like they say, ‘Practice makes you perfect’, the art of transparent, adult to adult communication can be practised until perfection. And once that becomes a way of life, it translates to trust at the workplace. And abra-ca-dabra, what you have just created is #MakeWorkAwesome! Let’s be those perfect trapeze performers at our workplaces with timed and clear communication trusting that our co-workers know their roles and will not let us fall or fail.

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Agility – What’s this fuss all about?

Agility – What’s this fuss all about?

Back in my college days in the late ’80s, I was associated with rowing as a sport. In competitive rowing, I used to be a coxswain (cox for short). In a specific type of boat, the cox is the member of the crew who sits in the stern facing the bow. He is responsible for steering and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. I don’t recall why our coach felt I would do better as a cox than at pulling oars. But as it turned out, I was reasonably good at the job. And those hours on the water, rowing with four crew members, taught me some great lessons. These came handy later on, navigating my teams to reach their goals better and faster.


Fast forward to 2008. I experienced white water rafting for the first time. Both sports appeared to be the same — a group of people with oars in hand paddling through the water to reach a destination. But clearly, rafting was a very different game compared to rowing.


Competitive rowing was serious business. Each member of the team had a clear role from start to finish. A clear strategy based on the assessment of opponents, planning based on the track’s nuances, and executing to plan was vital in winning a rowing event. All oarsmen would focus on execution efficiency, leaving navigation and pacing to the cox. How efficiently oarsmen converted their power into a forward movement of the boat separated winners from the rest.


The rafting was a very different experience. The water was very turbulent. The tracks sprinkled with rocks, and sudden drops in height meant that each obstacle had to be negotiated uniquely. The paths weren’t straight and marked, and the endpoint not necessarily visible. One could do as much planning or strategizing, till the next gush of water, flowing freely and fiercely, turned your plan, and with that, your boat upside down. None in the boat could stick to their uniquely defined role. But they all shared one single objective – to keep the boat afloat and reach the destination. Sometimes, going forward meant paddling backward to circumvent the obstacle.


Lessons learned and skills acquired as a cox back in the late ’80s were critical during the first couple of decades of my professional life. It was the industrial era where the world was moving at a manageable pace. The focus was on execution excellence. Just like an oarsman, mastering your role, excelling in your defined craft, leaving the navigation, and rest to your leader, cox was enough to win laurels.


However, the information era that we are navigating through now has its own set of challenges. Disruption has become a new normal. The world is turbulent, like white water. Strategy, planning, and execution are still crucial in business, but only till the next wave of disruption hits you. Today’s workforce needs a mindset of white water rafter than of oarsman in a rowing boat. They need a broader understanding of the goal than a well-defined road-map. They need to think on their feet to deal with the unexpected and adapt to the situation. Agility in strategy, planning, and execution is more critical than stability. And, most important is the agility of the mind. Unless, of course, you are in calm waters with defined tracks and a visible destination. And if you are, connect with me. Remember, I was competent as a cox. I wouldn’t mind a trip down the memory lane before I take you back to the future!

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Cross generational workforce – challenge or opportunity ?

Cross generational workforce – challenge or opportunity ?

Managing millennials and managing cross-generational workforce are top trending challenges for Corporates. 


Before millennials joined the workforce, the world was changing at a much slower pace. Industries and jobs, both were defined more granularly. More importantly, acquiring new skills wasn’t critical to surviving. Over the last decade, things have been quite different. Technology is disrupting everything. It is threatening to take over most manual, repeatable, predictable jobs, which the prior generation had mastered as part of the industrial revolution. Its impact is cutting across the professions. Whether you are an accountant, engineer, doctor or lawyer, the technology disruption is redefining how work gets done. It’s breaking down walls across industries, creating new industries, and merging few. The rate of technology obsolescence has multiplied. For the non-millennial workforce, dealing with this level of disruption is a big challenge. When organizations introspect on lack of innovation or speed or both, they get bulk of the blame and it is only widening the gap between generations within an organization. 


As we enter the next decade, it’s clear that innovation and speed are critical, not just for growth but also for vitality or even survival of an organization. Gone are the days, when innovation was a prerogative of a certain department or role. Innovation is not just about technology. It’s about processes, models, etc. touching every aspect of the business. Today, everyone who is part of an organization has to have an innovation mindset and belief that they can. There may be no master key for innovation that would work across industries but one key element across all will be – an appetite for experimentation. 


Experiment and experience often seem to cross swords. Experience tends to deliver quick, ready-to-execute advice and that often kills any chance to experiment with something new, thus killing any chance of finding something new. The experiment takes time to provide an outcome, if at all. And organizations that drive KPIs for innovation don’t have much time to waste. It appears like speed and innovation are mutually exclusive. Organizations continue to walk the tightrope trying to achieve both.


Another key dimension is speed, often seen as a function of size. But like innovation, it’s a mindset. History has shown that elephants can dance if the organization keeps the bureaucracy out, controls low and psychological safety high. In turn, it also helps them drive experimentation improving chances of innovation. 


For all that they don’t have, pre-millennials have wisdom in plenty to help any business stay on course.  Wisdom is nothing but the sum of all experiences – positive and negative, accumulated over time and distilled into knowledge. Ironically, while the technology of the future –  AI/ML, extensively learns from the past to prepare for tomorrow, the future leaders seem to undermine the power of such wisdom. In many cases, what separates a successful and not-so-successful tech venture, keeping all things the same, is the involvement of a seasoned person as a guide, mentor, coach, etc. 


The future of work is not single dimensional, meaning mastery or knowledge of one craft may not be enough to be successful. The future workforce is not pockets of super-heroes. Diversity of thoughts, experiences, backgrounds, and passions is extremely important in this era when organizations are expected to innovate and operate – and excel in both, at the same time. For businesses to succeed, leaders need to create an environment where both millennials and the pre-millennial workforce co-exist, collaborate, complement, and not compete. This way, they can draw the best of both worlds – technical acumen from millennials and business acumen from the rest. However, neither technical expertise nor wisdom is an exclusive function of age. So, they both need to learn to respect competence and wisdom irrespective of the age. 


It’s easier said than done, but there is help available for those who seek.  The question you need to answer is are you seeking.

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