Who Owns it?

Many of my clients have voiced concern relative to lack of accountability in their company, school or non-profit organizations. They lament to me about lack of ownership, true buy-in from their teams, and taking responsibility for the end game throughout the organization. Recently, Lynn Blodgett, president and C.E.O. of ACS, a Xerox company based in Dallas, Texas, was interviewed by Adam Bryant of the New York Times.

Mr. Blodgett’s background and the entire interview is interesting. I particularly found his statement on alignment and accountability relevant and directly aligned to my company’s philosophy. He states:

“We need to focus on getting everybody’s interests aligned on the same side of the table, including the client’s. Because that’s not normally how it is. You have the client with their objectives. You have the employee with their objectives. And then you’re over here trying to make nice with everybody.”

So, how do you do that? It is often easy to say and hard to truly make happen. ACS has attempted to push the accountability down to the lowest level of the organization. I quote Mr. Blodgett:

“One of the ways that we do it is we drive the P & L as deep into the organization as we can. We have a P & L at a customer level, that’s mandatory. We have to be able to see how we’re doing with that customer. A lot of companies can’t do that. In our business we drive the P & L down to the people who are actually doing the work. So if we can make a P & L for a $10 million business, we’ll give that guy the P & L and he’ll have profit accountability, revenue accountability and customer satisfaction accountability. And as they grow, they make more money. That results in a higher performance, in my opinion. So you give people control, hold them accountable, give them control of their resources, and then monitor what they do. And if you do that, you’re going to tap into, in our business, the highest level of drive — entrepreneurial drive. I want ACS to look like a whole bunch of sole proprietorships. Because that way, people are thinking to themselves, “If this was my money, if I was doing this, would I really spend it? Do I have to buy that computer right now or can I get by with my one that’s two years old?”

I completely agree with this philosophy. Whether this be at a Boys and Girls Club, a charter school, a division of a Fortune 500 company, or a venture-backed start-up; a key secret to success is creating a culture which drives accountability down to the individual level – where everyone takes ownership for how money is spent, investments are made, and strategic decisions are discussed and owned. Who owns it? We do.

2 responses to “Who Owns it?

  1. Kristin,

    How timely! I have been thinking about this same situation recently and just last night picked up a copy of Ownership Thinking by Brad Hams. I have not gotten too deep into it yet and it is already making sense to me and helping me think of ways to shift the thinking of teams and staff.

    It came highly recommended to me and I pass on that recommendation to others!


  2. Often times the subject of “culture” creates thoughts of soft or feel good management, so focusing efforts on developing “culture” gets a bad rap. “Culture” gets the “whatever” shrug. But a positive culture that innovates and adapts quickly is what produces great results (see Kotter & Heskutt’s Corporate Culture and Performance book).
    I agree that accountability at the individual level is critical to drive significant collective improvements. The best way to create individual accountability, that’s sustainable, is to seek “buy in” up front so all self-discover the goals and expectations. First build understandings around “why” and then the “what” and “how” are aligned from top to bottom.
    “Guided self-discovery” takes more planning and effort from leaders. Thus leader’s often go the short cut route and push down directives. Unfortunately this “push down” approach will not sustain over time and minimal innovation or improvements will ensue. And building on Charles Darwin – it’s not the strongest but those who adapt the best who survive.
    For senior leaders who want “accountability” there is an “egg first” and it starts by orchestrating self-guided discovery for all (or at least substantial representation) members of the team. It’s where all ultimately “buy in” to goals. Don’t expect one-off emails or PowerPoint presentations to secure needed “buy in”. “Buy in” and commitment happens when the leader sets the stage and seeks everyone’s engagement in problems, challenges, solutions, and expectations so individually all feel fully part of the team.

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