This hack begins the process of changing a Management 1.0 organization’s culture by recognizing that an increase in personal freedom must be accompanied by an increase in personal accountability in order for true autonomy to emerge. Or, in essence:
freedom + accountability = a culture of autonomy
Nothing is more Management 1.0 than an organization where employees feel they have no autonomy. In these organizations employees feel disempowered because they do not have the authority to make decisions for themselves, to decide how best to use their own time, or to pursue the projects they believe will help them most effectively meet their goals.
If you asked an employee at one of these organizations what would help them feel more empowered, they would probably tell you that they need more freedom. Yet most organizations are hesitant to offer more freedom to employees without knowing with some certainty what will be gained from it. A story to illustrate the point:
One of the authors of this hack, Chris Grams, was a member of the team that created the corporate values at open source software company Red Hat almost a decade ago. In order to determine the values, Red Hat openly surveyed and interviewed employees from across the company to get their thoughts on what the “true” values of the organizations were (the group followed the Jim Collins model where values aren’t decided upon by the executive team, but instead “emerge” from within the organization).
Out of this research it quickly became very clear that the most important corporate value in the minds of employees was “freedom.” This is what drove people, made them want to come to work, and made Red Hat so different than other companies.
Yet when the values team presented the results of the research to the Red Hat executives (a very progressive, visionary group) the first reaction was still, “If freedom is a value of Red Hat, what’s to stop an employee from waking up and deciding that they have the freedom to not come to work that morning?”
The values team felt very strongly that freedom must be a Red Hat value (almost every employee the team talked to had mentioned it in some form) so they went back to look at the data again. Ultimately they found the answer: Freedom was balanced out by another value– accountability– to each other, to partners and customers, and to shareholders. The final four values looked like this, with freedom and accountability balancing each other out:
Ultimately, the values team was able to convince the Red Hat executives that freedom was a core value of Red Hat by showing that accountability was also a core value. The answer to the executive’s question about the employee who might think they have the freedom to not show up to work was now clear:
The employee would show up because they understood that their freedom to do what they wanted was balanced by their accountability to ensuring their actions proved not only best for them, but also for their colleagues, partners, customers, and shareholders.
By coding autonomy into the corporate values through the freedom/accountability balance, Red Hat made it part of the DNA of the organization.
But not every organization will have the opportunity to draft corporate values to solve for autonomy the way Red Hat did. Big cultural changes are hard, especially in large organizations. Many organizations interested in providing more autonomy will be facing serious headwinds:
- deeply entrenched cultural norms and rewards that encourage management to exert control rather than grant freedom
- individual manager “landowners” that see providing more freedom as a path to them losing power (after all, revolutions are never started by landowners) and thus resist efforts to change
- inertial forces that keep things the way they always have been because it is harder to make a change than to just stay the same
This hack provides a small, but very powerful way for individual managers and employees in traditional management 1.0 organizations to “think locally” and create islands of autonomy within their own teams by designing freedom and accountability questions as a transaction to be negotiated: the Freedom/Accountability Swap.
This hack is not designed to reinvent the organization or management structure overnight, but instead is more of a “stealth” hack that allows you to build elements of a Management 2.0 culture without the core management philosophy of the organization being visibly threatened. In this sense, it is a relatively “safe” hack for traditional organizations to try.
The hope is that if enough “islands of autonomy” are created within an organization, and the groups where autonomy is high are more passionate, motivated, and successful than those where autonomy is low, then the entire culture of the organization could become more autonomous over time.
By swapping freedom for accountability:
- A manager can expect a more engaged employee who is more invested in their work. In addition, they can also expect a “guarantee” that the employee’s decisions will not just benefit the employee, but potentially also colleagues, partners, customers, and shareholders.
- An employee can expect to get more input into the direction of their own work and perhaps even the direction of the team and organization more broadly. In addition they will have a clearer understanding of their manager’s expectations regarding the outcome of their work, and they will be able to hold the manager more accountable for how they are managed.
So how would a “Freedom/Accountability Swap” work? Here’s one plan to consider:
1. INITIATE THE SWAP: Once a year, perhaps as part of an existing yearly performance or compensation review process, each employee and manager would schedule a conversation in which they would discuss that year’s Freedom/Accountability Swap. (Some organizations may want to do this conversation more often than 1x per year.)
2. SHARE IMPRESSIONS: Ahead of the meeting, both the employee and manager fill out a simple five-question online survey (the manager would do this for each employee). This survey should only take a few minutes to complete. Here are the questions that might appear on the survey (the employee only sees the employee version of the questions, the manager only sees the manager version):
- Employee version: Where do you feel like you have the most freedom in your daily work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you feel you have more freedom.
- Manager version: Where do you think this person currently has the most freedom in their daily work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you feel they have more freedom.
- Employee version: Where do you feel like you have the least freedom in your work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you feel you have less freedom.
- Manager version: Where do you think this person has the least freedom in their work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why they have less freedom.
- Employee version: Where do you feel most accountable for the results of your work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you feel you are more accountable.
- Manager version: Where do you think this person is most accountable for the results of their work? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why they are more accountable.
- Employee version: Where do you think you are least accountable for the results of your work. Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you think you are less accountable.
- Manager version: Where do you think this person is least accountable for the results of their work. Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you think they are less accountable.
- Employee version: Where do you feel your manager is least accountable to you? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you think he/she is less accountable.
- Manager version: Where do you feel you are least accountable to this person? Name specific projects, tasks, or deliverables whenever possible and explain why you think you are less accountable than you could be.
3. SHARE RESULTS: The answers that the manager and employee provided are shared prior to the meeting.
4. MAP THE GAPS: At the meeting, the manager and employee each share their impressions of where there are perception gaps when it comes to freedom and accountability based on their answers to the survey. For example, are there projects, tasks, or deliverables where:
- the employee thinks they don’t have enough freedom and the manager feels they are less accountable?
- the manager thinks the employee has a lot of freedom, but the employee doesn’t agree?
- the employee thinks they are highly accountable but the manager doesn’t agree?
- the manager thinks they are highly accountable, but the employee doesn’t agree?
- both sides perceptions of freedom and accountability match well?
As they have the conversation, they “map the gaps” on a sheet like the one below so they can see where to focus their discussion:
The conversation should not just focus on where there are perception gaps, but should also cover the places where freedom and accountability are already the highest. In places where both are high, what is the reason why the “swap” works better? In places where the employee perceives freedom as low and the manager perceives accountability as low, what could be done to grant more freedom to the employee and what could the manager ask for in return?
Be sure that accountability is looked at from both the manager’s perspective and the employee’s perspective. It is just as important to discuss whether the manager is being held accountable as it is the employee—accountability works both ways—this is at the heart of the “swap.”
5. THE SWAP: At the end of the conversation, the manager and employee should analyze each key project, task, or deliverable they’ve discussed and come to an agreement about what each side can offer that will increase freedom AND accountability for both sides.
6. REVIEW: Over the course of the year, the employee and manager can use the language they developed in the swap as part of an ongoing conversation. This language may make it easier to discuss freedom / accountability issues as they arise in daily work.
Some organizations may want to take the Freedom / Accountability Swap even further beyond individual manager/employee relationships. It could easily be modified to work as a tool to create better relationships between groups in an organization as well as within groups. Leaders representing each group could have a similar dialogue, resulting in a Freedom/Accountability swap that improved the working relationships between these teams and increased autonomy on both sides.
If an organization wanted to test this hack, one way might be to try it with one manager and one employee, or a small set of managers and employees first to see how it works.
Some organizations will want to make this a formal human resources process, endorsed by the HR team, others may just want to try it informally first with a few small teams and assess the results.
▪ Hypotheses: By providing a framework for a conversation about freedom and accountability as the levers that drive autonomy, we might actually encourage a culture where autonomy is treasured to develop within the organization.
▪ Measurement: In addition to the survey suggested above, each employee and manager would take a short survey immediately after their “swap” conversation and at the end of the trial period to test and measure where perceptions of freedom and autonomy have improved significantly on both sides.
▪ Experimental subjects: Subjects (both manager and employee) must be willing participants who are interested in seeing the level of autonomy in the organization grow.
▪ Control group: Design the surveys above in such a way that you could ask the same questions about freedom and accountability to the managers and employees in the control group at the same time you ask them to the experiment subjects. Look for gaps in autonomy and freedom between the experimental and control group.
Day 1: Initiate the swap
Day 1: Share impressions via the survey
Day 7: Share results of the survey
Day 14: Host meeting: “map the gaps” and agree to the freedom / accountability swap
Day 15: Experimental and control group take first survey to test levels of freedom and accountability
Day 75: Manager and employee have followup review meeting to discuss progress.
Day 85: Experimental and control group take second survey to test levels of freedom and accountability
Day 90: Report results of experiment
Thanks to all of the participants in the Management 2.0 Hackathon for helping us develop this hack. Thanks also to Red Hat associates past and present for providing the inspiration!