Do You Create an Environment of Autonomous Accountability?

“Autonomous accountability” is a term that came to me, in a recent CEO coaching session, when we were talking about the real job of the CEO: to build a really strong team and to make fewer decisions, over time. I talk about this in Make Yourself Useless, Chapter 10, Your Oxygen Mask First.

That means giving executives an incredible amount of autonomy paired with an incredible amount of accountability. This is a match made in heaven because high-performing executives and CEOs want to work this way.

But many CEOs struggle to give more autonomy because they aren’t getting the results they want. Sometimes, it’s because the right executive isn’t in the right role and sometimes, the expected (the accountability) isn’t clear enough.

Generally, we’ve found there’s only one way to know for sure – and that’s to have crystal clear accountability (in the eyes of the CEO and the executive). Then you see, with that absolute clarity, if the executive can deliver what is expected.

From that point, it’s easy to either give more autonomy, as the executive either delivers on their commitments or needs to improve their performance which either works or results in a change of their role.

The Right People Want People to Be Accountable

Most A-Player executives want autonomous accountability. So you have to set up the right systems to allow that to happen, with crystal clear Scorecards and goals to ensure everyone knows what they are responsible for delivering, each month, quarter and year.

To be highly effective, scorecards need to cover off three core engines of the business:

      1. The Strategy Engine. Clarity about annual and quarterly goals which the executive and the team need to accomplish.
      2. The People Engine. Clear expectations about the size, strength and performance of the people on the executive’s team. This is usually a percentage of A Players and all key leaders having succession and development plans.
      3. The Capital and Cash Engine. Accountability for two things:
          • Operational KPI delivery that show the teams and functions they oversee are delivering to expectation and helping their part of the business and
          • Specific lines of the income statement or balance sheet, with specific targets they need to achieve or ranges they need to stay within, for each.

In summary, in order to give people more autonomy, accountability often needs to be much clearer. The CEO and executive must be completely aligned on what great looks like, and specific things that need to be delivered.

When delivered, the CEO can relax, trust and give more autonomy to the executive. And the executive knows they are winning and meeting the expectations of the CEO and the company.

The Challenge

  • What do you need to do to give each of your team members both more autonomy and more accountability so that they do their best work as independently as possible?

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