Free to Grow: Transparency driven Accountability

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

What motivates you?

There’s an old saying, “Hard work isn’t easy. It’s hard.” The pace of business and the changing market landscape makes that statement as true today as it’s ever been. Working amidst complexity, struggling to achieve ever-higher productivity goals, and operating within razor-thin margins are common realities in many industries. With all of these challenges, it’s easy to ask, “is it worth it?”
The science of motivation has grown tremendously in recent years, and it’s a good thing too because Millenials and GenY employees seem to have a pretty different set of expectations about the role of work in their lives than their parents. Research by Daniel Pink and others are increasingly showing that internal values, not external rewards, are the primary drivers of passion and success. Specifically, Pink refers to “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose” as three principles that drive motivation to perform. The freedom to choose what we work on, the opportunity to improve, and an understanding of how what we do matters are all far more successful at producing results than money or titles.
Now, that puts business leaders in a tough spot; we want happy employees and we want a healthy bottom line. Is there a solution that lets us provide autonomy to our teams, and still achieve our business goals? I think there is.
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We’re in a competitive industry, and technology moves at a blistering pace. I’ve seen my engineering team triple in size in the last two years! Our company culture values freedom, innovation and a challenger mindset. These values become more precious but also more difficult to preserve as we grow. For that reason, we need a context for freedom, a set of parameters that dictate what we should and shouldn’t do. We need to understand the boundaries that, if followed, will help us win. This is our strategy.
 
A well defined strategy is the context for freedom.
 
When you have a company strategy that everyone (and I mean everyone) understands, you can begin to draw a mental picture that allows each person in the company to make micro-decisions aligned with success. You do that by creating line of sight between every day activity and the results. It’s convenient to visualize this in three layers:
  1. A crystal clear strategy

  2. Established metrics (Key Indicators) that demonstrate the success of the strategy.

  3. Tactical processes designed to improve Key Indicators

 

I like the maxim, “You are what you measure.” I’ve seen engineering teams wrapped around the axle of code coverage metrics, or obsessed over velocity or burn-down rates. When we put a number in front of our team, we know they’re going to try to hit it. That’s why it’s so critical that we use wisdom when establishing the metrics which will govern our business. We should focus on metrics that directly map to our strategy, and drop the ones that don’t. We should be confident that the improvement of our Key Indicators equates with improvement in our overall business outlook. Then we can empower our teams to drive towards those Key Indicators, however they chooseWe should establish the what, not the how.
 
Employees with an understanding of the strategy, and a grasp of the Key Indicators that drive it, are in an excellent position to develop good processes. This is the day-to-day blocking and tackling that must be done to generate results, and this is where freedom pays the greatest dividends in terms of motivation and performance. Modern work management tools let us provide this to our teams and still preserve a high degree of accountability, because we can see both their activities and outcomes. As business leaders we need to understand what’s happening, but stay the hell out of the way (that includes asking for status updates).
 
Transparent Accountability is the beating heart of successful, modern businesses. Strategic alignment provides a context for freedom for individuals, and Key Indicators set the bar. The processes your team establishes and follows should drive those Key Indicators, and you’ll know they are because you have visibility into what they do.
 

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