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Creating Shared Responsibility for Success in Your Business Intelligence Team

Originally published June 9, 2009

If you’re a manager, director, vice president or even the president of your company, I have a simple question for you. Who is responsible for the success of your team and/or organization? Most of you have probably responded, “That’s easy, we all are – after all, I can’t do it myself!” Good answer. Unfortunately, in practice, research shows that people in a managerial or leadership role regularly take on too much responsibility for the success of their areas, and this predictable behavior has its consequences. Those at the top of the “system,” whether we define the system as being a business intelligence (BI) team, a task force, a division or even the entire organization, often feel burdened, exhausted and overwhelmed. And what’s worse, their behavior may be limiting the success of their team.

Barry Oshry, a leading theorist in human systems theory, who has studied and written about organizational systems for more than thirty-five years, identifies the behavior of “sucking up responsibility” as the predictable response to the complexity and responsibility inherent in the “Top” space. To be clear, this behavior isn’t an explicit choice. It’s probably more accurate to say the conditions in the space evoke this almost reflexive response. While understandable and fairly typical, it’s not the path that will lead to the greatest success. No matter how skilled and experienced you are, your results will be improved if you can tap the creativity and commitment of your entire team. This article will explore some strategies to help you do just that, but first a note of caution. I’m sure we’ve all heard the familiar refrain, “Don’t ask me; I just work here.” This comment belies an attitude of non-accountability. Ultimately, you can’t empower others; each individual must make the choice between being truly engaged and challenged in their work lives and being passive and lackadaisical. But that doesn’t let you, as a leader, off the hook. It is in your best interest and the interest of the system to create the conditions that enable others to take responsibility.

Informing

Share high-quality information about the system. After all, it’s difficult to feel responsible for a system you don’t see or understand. Hold regular all-hands meetings where relevant information such as goals, challenges, financial measures, client information and external feedback (i.e., customer surveys and industry information) are first explained and then tracked. Spend time explaining and sharing the company, departmental, and/or BI strategic plan. Create a line of sight for your team between what they do each day and the larger organizational goals. If you are a manager of managers, hold them accountable for creating line of sight for their teams. Helping your team see how they contribute to the success of the larger organization is a powerful motivator for increased responsibility.

Involving

Involve others in BIG issues. Research shows that the bigger the issue, the more likely we are to suck it up to ourselves. While this may seem like the wise course, think about the message it sends – either that your people aren’t capable of handling these issues or that you don’t trust them. Another implication is that they don’t gain the experience and skills they would need to eventually handle tough issues. So, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Company XYZ embraced this strategy and created a process whereby all employees had an opportunity to participate in defining new market opportunities. Each strategy subcommittee was charged with examining one new product area that the company might expand into. The four areas were identified and defined by senior management, but participation was open to any and all interested parties. These subcommittees worked as self-managed teams to examine each market opportunity using a pre-defined template. Each team had access to actuaries and other subject-matter experts as they determined a need. There was widespread representation throughout the business from all levels and departments, and much enthusiasm was created as people began to believe they could make a substantial difference for the business. Each group made a presentation to senior management, thereby allowing them to gain visibility that many of them had not previously had. From these presentations, two new opportunities were accepted and became thriving lines of business for the company.

Are there similarly BIG issues that you could use some help on? Creating a BI road map? Selecting a new technology? Responding to budget imperatives? Consider creating a process whereby you don’t just “dump” challenging projects on others, but you set stretch goals and remain a committed coach in the process. You’ll be reducing your burden, building your bench strength, and creating commitment and responsibility in your team.

Structuring

A powerful way to get and keep your team aligned is to create an enrolling vision for the initiative, one that goes beyond defining what currently exists to creating a picture of what it can become. An enterprise-wide vision is no substitute for one that is tailored to your team or organization. Involving as many of your team members as possible in the visioning will create engagement and energy around the end product. A vision is simply a picture of a desired future state. Start by discussing the following questions:
  • What will it look like if our BI program and projects are accomplished?

  • What will be happening with our business?

  • What will our customers be saying about us?

  • What will management be saying about us?

  • What will our peers be saying about us?

  • What will our slogan be?

  • How will we feel?
Feel free to take liberties in the format of the vision, including text or graphics. The most important thing is that it defines a system that people want to be a part of and contribute to. As an example, Company ABC created a shared commitment statement, drafted by a cross-section of associates, that laid out their shared commitment to: ourselves and each other, our customers and our owners.

To give the vision a life beyond words on a page, allow “praise and brag” time at each all-hands meeting where people recount stories of how they saw their teammates live out the vision. These stories begin to re-define “what it takes to be successful around here.” This is a brief, often-used definition of culture, so by allowing time for this simple step, you are literally reshaping the culture on your team. To get the ball rolling, ask two or three trusted staff members to catch people doing the right thing and bring their stories to the meeting.

If a part of you feels that the “praise and brag” time sounds unnecessary or even stupid, consider the Q12. It’s a tool created by the Gallup Organization that is designed to measure the level of employee engagement. It contains only twelve statements that turn out to be the best indicators of employee satisfaction and engagement. One of those statements is, “In the last seven (7) days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” How would your employees respond to this statement?

Reducing the differences between those at the top of the organization and the front-line workers is another potent way to show employees that they are valued and their contribution is critical. After all, it’s difficult to feel responsible for a system where there are major differences between workers and management in terms of perks, treatment and culture. Like many companies, Company QRS had lots of perks that had traditionally been shared only by senior management: box seats at all major sporting events, special showings and gatherings at major art events, tickets to various entertainment venues. They started handing out some of these perks to staff members who displayed appropriate new behaviors or who were called out in the praise and brag section of the meeting. Are there some perks in your environment that could be shared? If so, hand them out at all-hands meetings and be explicit about the reason behind each reward. Often just being recognized for doing good work is enough to motivate most employees.

Developing

While training in technical skills is a good investment, there are a myriad of soft skills that can help your team take more responsibility for success. Group problem solving, communication and conflict management, facilitation, change management and understanding how human systems typically function are critical skills that enable others on your team to step into leadership roles. Many ways are available to receive training in these areas.

Another good investment is taking time to build relationships with your team. It’ll be easier for people to get behind you and support you if they feel some connection to who you are and what you’re about. This doesn’t need to be overtly personal information – share information about how you see the team living up to the vision, or share some of the obstacles the team faces and solicit their input. Where feasible, let them in on new developments and provide context that will help them understand the necessity for the change. In short, create the narrative of what’s happening in the larger organization and industry. If you have a large team, consider creating a recurring forum where a workable number of employees, say twelve to fifteen, can interact personally with you. In addition to hearing your thoughts, they could ask questions about the organization and provide feedback about any impediments in their part of the system to achieving the vision. Obviously, this shouldn’t translate into a whole new to-do list for you, but you may have information or insight that would help them tackle the problem in new ways. To enhance the benefit of this strategy, publish notes from the meeting to the whole team. Creating a space for an ongoing dialog will help you build relationships and commitment – and give you more accurate information about your organization, about what you need to be looking out for and about what’s not happening that needs to be happening.

Throughout this article, I’ve given some examples from several companies. You may be interested in one story about the impact of these strategies. An invitation went out to all members of the BI initiative to put on a skit that demonstrated “what’s changed” to be presented at an end-of-year celebration. The “before” portion of each of the skits showed people filing their nails while the phones rang endlessly, passing off work or hiding it, blaming other departments, etc. The “after” skits showed people engaged, committed to finding solutions, and “on the ball.” It was very gratifying to see these sentiments self-expressed by all levels/departments in the organization. More specifically, the relationship between IT and their business customers improved, as did project deadlines and quality.

While these may not be measures that are directly relevant to your work in business intelligence, hopefully they will provide evidence for the power of creating an environment where all members can feel responsible for and indeed critical to the success of your organization.

Sources:

  1. Oshry, Barry Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 2007.

  2. Gallup, Inc. Q12 Employee Engagement Survey.

  • Lorna RickardLorna Rickard
    Lorna Rickard is the Chief Workforce Architect at CONNECT: The Knowledge Network (CONNECT). She has twenty years of experience in organizational development, instructional design and facilitation. Prior to joining CONNECT, Lorna served as Director of Culture and Communications for one of the then largest reinsurers in the world. At CONNECT, she is responsible for assessing and advising client systems on cross-functional collaboration, and team and organizational effectiveness. Lorna has a B.S. in Investment Finance from California State University, Long Beach. Lorna can be reached at lrickard@connectknowledge.com.


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