The Death of Personal Responsibility

by Chris Johnson

Welcome to the corporate task jungle. Is your building still standing at the end of the day? Must be a job well done. Have you successfully ridden the daily roller coaster of unprompted requests and demands? Pretty much a badge of merit. We made it through the day ladies and gentlemen, well done.

Having just spent two days with a wonderful group of enthusiastic young managers it was clear from the stories and examples they shared, that they were being left to hack through the deep foliage of tasks with almost zero guidance and support. Strategic focus? That can wait until tomorrow.

I see this approach in many companies and I truly empathise. Resources are lower. Expectations are rising. Pressure is increasing. Do I plug the gap, or fix the cause? Focusing on what we can affect now affords us that oh so addictive dopamine spike for a few precious minutes.

Why is this approach so prevalent? 

Personal responsibility is dying.

Imagine half time in a game of football; the game is tied. It’s tense. No one wants to make a mistake. As the teams sit in their dressing rooms, their coaches are bluntly asking for that 1 or 2 percent that will swing the result their way. Be sharper. Be more clinical. Give more effort. Not a single tactic is uttered. The focus on the result is absolute: the focus on the process is almost zero.

This mirrors how we often seek to achieve our targets all levels. Be sharper. Be more clinical. Give more effort. Whilst we are accountable for the results, we are failing in our responsibility to help our teams find the right approaches and execute them, to energise our people and live the right blend of tactics to win the game.

High performing sports coaches and managers understand where they want to go and focus on the behaviours and processesn eeded to get there.

  1. They develop a clear vision and strategy (and get buy-in).
  2. They communicate the approach to engage the organization.
  3. They actively develop the corporate values and culture.
  4. They coach and mentor people to inspire and get the best from them.
  5. They assess the results and adjust the approaches.

Whilst individual corporate responsibility is fragile, many of the structures that seek to build better behaviours and processes are at least in place.  Strategy workshops, target setting, one-to-ones, yearly appraisals, operations meetings, budget reviews. If you’re extremely fortunate, individual coaching, mentoring conversations, positive conflict discussions, assumption clearing, team behaviour alignment, active strategy reviews, lightning update rounds, personal development workshops and maybe focus on how to employ your personal superpowers in the workplace. I sincerely hope you are one of the lucky ones that have a manager who lives their responsibility and gives you access to these resources, they are out there and they make the difference.

So what makes the difference?

In our experience, many companies know the culture, organizational structure and processes they want. The difficulty is in bringing those elements vividly to life each and every day. In turn learning and development departments and agencies needs to take a bigger stand for addressing fundamental attitudinal change to support the knowledge and skills being transferred.

Let’s look at 3 seemingly small things that can make a major difference to your daily business processes.

  1. Listening to your organic early warning system

Have you ever had that feeling in a meeting that it is going nowhere and not said anything? I ask this question a lot in sessions I run and I’ve never met anyone who has answered no.

Often the first signs we are not living our values, strategy or executing our plan at work is literally a physical sensation in our body. People describe butterflies in their stomach, restless or fidgety behaviour or even a slightly elevated heartbeat. We want you to take notice of this organic early warning system to give yourself conscious choice on what you do next.

  1. Courage to wrestle your ego

Let’s continue that meeting example. Your body has clearly indicated the meeting you’re in has low energy, poor attention from people in the room and is going nowhere. So, what do you do? At this point, depending on who is in the room, your ego may well be telling you that taking action will be severely career limiting. The ego is simply doing its job of trying to protect you by offering you an alternative; an alternative that will often seem hugely attractive. Now is the moment you get to wrestle that ego, ask yourself what is truly important and choose whether to act. We find that the stronger your early warning system is pinging; the more likely acting will make you feel better about your ultimate contribution in the workplace. Our recommendation for navigating this potential career limiting situation is to do a little fishing. So let’s go back to that lifeless meeting and consider the question below.

“Ladies and gents, I’m noticing that there is a low energy in the room and I notice we keep diving in to the details which is taking us longer than we anticipated and off our agenda timings. How does everyone else feel?”

You have clearly described what is going on. You have described the impact. You have asked for other people to comment and align with you. This is your truth and your truth cannot be disputed. However, we do want people to act on it.

If people are aligned you have the opportunity to create something different. The art of true leadership. If you are met with silence and eyes that suggest you should go back from whence you came, then you have the option to retreat and wait for more fertile, less career limited ground, or take another stand to encourage more alignment from the group.

  1. Embracing discomfort

Conversations like these are uncomfortable for most people. I would love to tell you that by knowing the skills and behaviours needed to have them, that they become easier. Whilst that is undoubtedly partially true, discomfort will nearly always be present and therefore challenging your belief system around discomfort is key. Having opened the doors to an uncomfortable conversation simply knowing there can be great stuff on the other side can be truly liberating, even more so if this is an organizational value. Our challenge to you is to embrace that discomfort and stay with it. If the conversation reaches the end and your early warning system is still telling there is more to be said, then you’re back to doing the ego wrestling in step 2. Staying in the discomfort until is fully aired and action is agreed is what delivers real change.

People, teams and organizations that regularly call out and address the poor behaviours that take root in our everyday business processes are the ones that truly create innovative, productive and successful cultures and that is what we passionately want for your workplace.

We want to hear from you!

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