On Responsibility

Responsibility is a unique concept… You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you… If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.” – Admiral H.G. Rickover

I read this quote of Admiral Rickover’s countless times during the years I worked for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. It prompted me to search for the source that drove Rickover’s clarity and voracity for responsibility. I found it in the 1911 essay by John Grier Hibben, On Responsibility.  Enjoy this full version below and the pdf at this link.  In these days of TLDR (too long; didn’t read), let’s start a new tag of LBMR (long, but must read).

There is much loose and confused thinking about the nature of responsibility. Not only are there innumerable instances of persons holding positions of trust who are evading evident responsibilities, but also more particularly, of those who would seek to justify themselves in such a course. The latter are like the figures in Nast’s famous cartoon of the Tweed Ring, who are all standing in a circle, and each one pointing aside with his thumb to his neighbor as the responsible person. It is the old story of the other man. There are many circumstances in life where it is convenient to shift the responsibility upon someone else; and whenever one sets himself to defend a convenient course of action, he does not always see straight and think clear. Even though he may succeed in convincing himself, nevertheless if in this process there is any element of self-deception, he is perilously near the danger line.
There are no fallacies so subtle as those which insinuate themselves into our reasoning at a time when our interests are involved. To play the role of judge and of special pleader at one and the same time is an impossible task. Therefore when we seek to free ourselves from the burden of responsibility in any situation, we must be particularly on guard, that we do not allow ourselves to become ensnared in the toils of those artificial distinction and plausible explanations which when stripped of their verbal dress appear in their nakedness as contemptible subterfuges.
One of these convenient ideas which serves as a kind of natural anesthetic to conscience is the belief that any responsibility which is divided is thereby lessened. Responsibility, however, can never be dissipated by diffusion. The director of a corporation may content himself with the comforting thought that where many are jointly responsible, his share of the common obligation after all cannot be regarded as very serious. And in this idea there lies a very fundamental error. For responsibility is by its nature something intensive and not extensive. It can be divided among many, but it is not thereby diminished in degree.  When by the ordinary processes of arithmetical division, however, one number is divided by another; the result is only a small part of the original amount. It is always a lessening process. But the idea or responsibility cannot be expressed in any such quantitative terms. Dividends can be divided into separate parts, but not responsibility. Responsibility can never be conceived in the light of a magnitude. It belongs to the class of things which, when divided, each part is equal to the whole.
Responsibility in this respect is like pleasure which, when shared is not lessened, but the rather increased, as Bacon long ago pointed out. The same quality, also, we find in the rewards of honor, or of fame it may be, which come to the many who have served in a common cause and rejoice in a common victory. Thus the glory of the whole is each one’s share. It can be divided among many without loss. So, also, the appreciation of beauty in nature or in art shows no diminishing returns, although the number who experience the joy of it may be increased without limit. This, also, is the characteristic feature of responsibility. Parents share the responsibility of their children, but the complete responsibility and no half measure of it rests upon each. The director of a bank or an insurance company shares the responsibility of his position with his colleagues on the same board; but the shared responsibility is not a per capitum portion, but the whole.
This is not a new doctrine; but it comes to us with an immemorial sanction.  But it seems to have been forgotten in recent years. “My share of the responsibility is but slight,” is a common phrase which may be heard on all sides at the present day. If one would thus seek to minimize his sense of obligation as regards that which may be placed in his keeping as a trust, he should not forget that his share of responsibility is not a part, but the whole, undiminished and untransferable. He may have others associated with him, it is true, but his individual responsibility cannot be shifted upon them. He must meet it in the full rigor of its demands, and regard himself as though alone in the discharge of his duties.
There is also the fallacy of the delegated responsibility. It is impossible for one at the head of large business interests, for instance, to give his personal attention to every minute detail. He finds himself naturally compelled to delegate much of the work of supervision and of administration to others who act in the capacity of his deputies. Otherwise, the business of life would be impossible. This is indeed a commonplace of every-day business routine. But because some one else may assume the responsibility, he who deputizes it is not wholly relieved of it. He passes on the duty of actually performing some specific work, and yet the obligation still rests with him not to do the task, it is true, but at least to see that it is done. We cannot afford to ignore the common-law judgment that the act of the agent is the act of the principal. We cannot take it for granted that the mere transfer of responsibility to another assures a satisfactory discharge of all the duties which it involves. We do not care to shut our eyes to the fact as to whether such duties are fulfilled or not, on the ground that the responsibility now rests upon another and not upon ourselves. It is his responsibility, but it is also ours. A person who is at the head of a large business enterprise cannot be omnipresent or omniscient; but he is responsible for the kind of men who are his partners in responsibility, and also for the atmosphere which pervades his business, for the general morale of the service, for the discipline that is enforced, for the prevailing policy and method pursued, for the spirit and tone which characterize all departments, however various they may be. Division of labor is not a dissipation of responsibility. He who is responsible for a particular task is relived of that responsibility only when there is evidence that the given work has been done. The head of a corporation should devise certain methods by which such evidence can be regularly forthcoming, so that when any cog in any wheel may chance to slip, the fact may be at once apparent at the central seat of responsibility.
There is, of course, such a thing as a serial responsibility, as I would style it, that is, where a number of persons in turn assume the responsibility for a certain task, each contributing his share to its accomplishment, and then pass on the full responsibility to some other. This is illustrated in the sending of a registered package. Each one in the series does his part in the process of forwarding it, and receives a signed acknowledgement that another has relieved him of his particular duty and of all responsibility connected with it. The ordinary business of life, however, cannot always be so nicely adjusted. Responsibility appears more often in an indefinite and diffused form, in which many persons are involved, and not one at any time carries the full burden alone. There is no way of escaping responsibility of this kind as long as we remain within the area of its pervading power. We dare not hang about the outer edge of this region, hoping to reap the possible rewards, and yet think to evade all blame or loss in the event of untoward results. There are many who thus endeavor to hold their course along some such imaginary line, so that they may shrewdly keep within it to share the honor or dividends which may accrue, and yet be able to swerve to the outer side of it whenever the area within may become the storm-center of indignant protest and recrimination.
Again it is often urged that we are in a measure relieved of the responsibility of an act, when such an act is a customary procedure in the business, professional, or social circles in which we may happen to move. “Everybody does it,” it is said, “it is the usual practice; then why should I be over-scrupulous concerning that which general usage has sanctioned as permissible?” Such is the argument. And yet-responsibility at the last analysis must be recognized as an individual matter.  No man’s responsibility can be judged in the light of another’s. Custom does not make right. The low level which the morale of a guild or of a profession sometimes reaches is due to this very fact, that no individual sees his peculiar responsibility in such a light that he is willing to break the bond of custom by protest or by practice. It is not easy to be independent under such circumstances, but that does not make it any the less imperative. Responsibility is not lessened merely because it may entail extraordinary courage and sacrifice. We do not justify ourselves in the failure to meet evident obligations by the pleas that circumstances and conditions are too much for us to cope with. The convenient, the comfortable, and the easy-going are not the symptoms which usually form the diagnosis of responsibility.
There is another fallacy which many fall into of securing freedom from responsibility by the assumption of a convenient ignorance. A candidate, for instance, may not choose to know the detail of method and of policy pursued by a campaign committee in charge of his interests. The members of the committee in turn deem it wise to have him kept in ignorance. It is generally understood that whatever happens, he is to know nothing about it. The comforting theory is that no responsibility can attach to a person concerning an act of which his is ignorant. This is doubtless true, provided he is not purposely ignorant. A person may not be held responsible for failure to see some obvious circumstances when his eyes are shut; but he is responsible for his eyes being shut when they ought to be open.
There are men who know that certain results cannot possibly be accomplished without certain definite means being used, and yet consent weekly to profit by these results on the ground that they do not know explicitly the character of the means used to attain them. It is a lame excuse. We are responsible not only for that which we see and hear, but also for that which may be implied in the things seen and heard, and which we are compelled to recognize as the necessary consequences of them. It is not merely the actual situation in which we find ourselves, but also the logic of such situations that must be interpreted and judged by us as to the measure of our responsibility for them. It must be remembered that the very ground of our responsibility is the presupposition that we are in complete possession of our reason. How absurd therefore to narrow the range of responsibility by excluding the obvious inference which the reason of any man of ordinary intelligence must surely recognize. If a campaign committee, for instance, expends large sums of money, it stands to reason that the one in whose interests it has been raised must know that revenues are not created by magic. Merely to choose not to know is to ignore a definite responsibility and thereby assume an indefinite one. It is like signing a blank check to an unknown order and for an unknown amount. The man who would rather not know what his friends are doing on his behalf should be held in strict account for his voluntary ignorance. No one can afford to have things done for him which he would scorn to do or be afraid to do himself.
There is also a very common feeling that any one may repudiate all responsibility in a given situation, if he will only declare forcibly and loudly enough that he does not regard himself as in the least responsible for the same. He may insist that he will wash his hands of the whole matter; but there are certain stains that cannot be thus removed. The hands may be washed; but they may not be made clean by the process. There is a ceremonial purity which does not penetrate beneath the surface. How often men justify themselves, when feebly yielding to the prevailing opinion of the many associated with them in some position of trust, by the ready excuse that after all the majority must rule. It is true that the majority must rule; but it is equally true that the minority often must fight. A mere verbal protest followed by a quiet acquiescence is not sufficient when honor or honesty is the issue. An uncompromising attitude of opposition may have to be maintained until the court of last appeal is reached; that court may be a board of directors, or the stockholders, or public opinion, or in the regular course of legal procedure even the Supreme Court of the United States itself. Responsibility often demands a fight to the finish. In that case, compromise is cowardly.
We are responsible for our silence, for our inertia, for our ignorance, for our indifference–in short, for all those negative qualities which commonly constitute the “dummy” directors–those inconsequent personages who would enjoy the honor and perquisites of their office without allowing themselves to be unduly burdened with its duties and cares.  The president of a corporation or a superintendent does not assume the responsibility vested in its board of directors; he merely represents the responsibility. And when they would implicitly assign all sense of their personal obligation to his keeping, they not only put themselves in a position to be easily fooled, but actually offer a ready temptation to him to fool them. They are thus doubly reprehensible; for the neglect of duty on the one hand, and on the other for extending a virtual invitation for someone to use them as tools for unlawful ends. Not only the wreck of a business, but the wreck of a human being must be laid at their door, who by a splendid capacity for negligence do thus expose another to the play of the most subtle temptations which can be conceived.
There is also the mistaken notion that we may escape certain responsibilities simply by not assuming them.  There are some obligations, however, which we do not dare to refuse, and which indeed it is not possible to refuse. We have no choice in the matter. We cannot say in truth that we have no responsibility, for instance, for the general decency and good order of the community in which we live merely because we have chosen to keep out of the village politics, and therefore, not being on the borough council or the board of health, it is none of our business if the law of nature, of man, or of God are violated. It must be remembered that the responsibilities of such a kind are not assumed by definite choice, but belong to us whether we will or not. Certain responsibilities we do not choose; they choose us. If at times they seem to us vague and indefinite, it becomes our duty to make them definite through some effort on our part. We are held to account not merely for doing the obvious duty that circumstance may urge upon us, but also for creating the circumstance which may give rise to a wholly new set of duties. We are not only responsible for lending our service to the cause which has a rightful claim upon us, but also responsible for the very fact, if indeed it be a fact, that our responsibilities in life are so few and so slight. If we choose to carry the lighter burden, it is not a matter of felicitation, but one for our most serious personal concern; for an irresponsible person is always defective in some respect, either in body, mind, or character.
There are those moreover who imagine that in certain relations of life there can be devised some natural substitute for the sense of responsibility. It is possible, of course, to establish a set of automatic checks upon an employee’s activities of such a nature as to reduce his personal responsibility to a minimum. Any failure in the performance of his duties is at once mechanically discovered by the various systems of time-clock, bell-punches, cash registers, and the like. This is very well in all cases where the labor is that of simple routine. Mechanical activity can be checked by a mechanical device. Not so, however, as regards those duties which demand a higher order of capacity–such as that of sound judgment, a fine sense of discrimination, and the power of resourceful initiative. In all such matters there can be no substitute for the responsible personality. Man is a responsible being because of this very element of free activity in his nature which no mechanical contrivance, however ingenious, can ever gauge. We are all so completely depended upon the integrity, fidelity, and efficiency of our fellow-men in the more complex relations of life that we must at time, and often the most critical, trust them implicitly. We do not proceed far in any undertaking without being aware that we are holding another responsible, or that someone is holding us responsible for those inevitable duties which arise out of the relations of man to man the world over. If a man would escape all responsibility he must place himself wholly outside of the relations of life, for life is responsibility. As we have seen, responsibility remains with us even though we may ask others to assume it; we share it with others, but our portion is the same; when we turn our backs upon it, we find it still facing us; we flee from it, and however far it may be, we behold it waiting for us at the journey’s end.
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How a Change Team Dies & How to Save Them

Sadly, I’ve watched many centralized change teams (e.g., Lean Offices, Agile Groups, Morale Committees) die organizational deaths. Much of the suffering prior to their demises has been at their own hands, though I doubt they would ever see it that way.  Hence, I offer my perspective as another version of the story that may prompt self-reflection and learning.  In this blog post I’ll focus on three main ways that a change team dies.

  1. They drive people. When you use some form of coercion (e.g., orders, fear of negative consequences, removal or application of positive consequences) to compel others to change, you are draining away from them and yourself some amount of energy.  This slow-but-steady drain eventually depletes either the change team or their victims (er, clients).  This drain usually goes unnoticed until a leader of one of the client organizations takes action to force a senior leader above the change team to cancel their work.  Many meetings are held to question what, if any, value the change team is providing.  Eventually, the senior leader gives in, saddened by the situation, but powerless to disagree.  A central change team can save itself by switching to driving change, choosing this change (obviously) and clearing the obstacles for others to choose it to.  By removing themselves from driving people, they will have removed a huge obstacle for their clients.
  2. They lag behind the clients they purport to serve.  When a central change group is created, the presumption is that they are the thought-leading, practice-leading experts who can, with their full-time devoted to the change work, pull the entire organization along on their knowledge and experience.  Yet, many central change teams may start out ahead of some of their clients, but usually aren’t out ahead of all them.  Swelled with the pride of their new organization, the change teams can fall into a trap of arrogance, and disconnect from the thought and practice-leading clients and begin to create “the standard” way of doing the work, which is often more theoretical than practical, and often lags the learning that the clients are doing in the field.  A time progresses, the gap between the leaders and the central organization grows, as the leaders are still driving for results and the central is driving for scalable, controllable models (one size training, one process implementations).  When the gap gets big enough, or the tug of their lagging standard gets big enough, the leaders will again appeal to the senior leaders to choose between the results they are getting for the organization or the overhead of the centralized team, which failed to help the leading group get any better, faster, or cheaper.  A central team can save itself if it rediscovers its humility and links itself to the leaders in a driving change way of obstacle removal and pushing out the edges of organizational limits.
  3. They focus on their program, versus on their clients or their results.  When I ask a central change team, what are you working on, and all they tell me is about internal meetings, internal plans, and internal processes, I know they are slowly dying.  Their attention has shifted from their clients and client results to themselves and their results (or activities often) and with this shift they have lost the focus they need to deliver on the reason they were created: results.  They can save themselves if they shift their time together to figuring out how they can faster support their clients and remove the obstacles their clients have identified or ratified.

There are many great people in the world doing their very best to drive implementations of worthy changes and methods.  I hope this outline will help them see ways they can avoid common problems and keep themselves serving their clients well for years to come.

 

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Authorization Tiers

Are you struggling with how to enact empowerment in a project? Want a framework to help you have an effective conversation about how to integrate empowerment with development and teamwork?  Try this new framework I’ve put together, merging my work and David Marquet’s Ladder of Leadership.

The Authorization Tiers debuted publicly at the New Trends in Project Management (NTPM) Conference for Project Management Institute (PMI) in Gdansk, Poland.  I keynoted on April 25, 2017 and shared how anyone can use the authorization tiers to increase their opportunity to thrive.

This is the Authorization Tiers framework.

Authorization Tiers - A Framework for Project Empowerment v3

Here are the full presentation slides.  I offer them as my gift toward your success.

 

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Turn Frustration into Action

Tonight I watched the U.S. presidential debate. I also watched and read some of the posts on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m convince now more than ever that we need to move beyond the habit of storing our hopes and dreams for our future in our presidential candidates.

We need to stop fighting each other, yelling at each other, and demonizing each other. We need to start saying what we believe in and what we are doing to bring that new future into reality.

We need to decide to create the changes we want to see in our communities, states, and nations rather than waiting for someone, somewhere, to do something.

We are a multitude of someones.

We are somewhere, our somewhere: the place that most matter to each of us.

We can do something.

How?

We must become the change agents we can be. We must drive change, not people. We must live our changes and clear the way for others to join us.

We have been suffocated by people telling us they will solve our problems.  We are crushed with the promises that they will finally do something for us.  We can do better.

Are you ready to start creating the change you want to see in the world? Yes?

Do you know where to start and how to keep yourself going? No?

Everyone is a Change AgentI’m overjoyed that Everyone is a Change Agent has been published now, just weeks before the election.

Now we are at our most frustrated with the system as it has been, or as we’ve thought it might be.  Let’s turn that frustration into action.

Stop waiting for them to fix it, improve it, or change it.  You can do it! I believe in you.

Buy Everyone is a Change Agent. Read it. Live it.  You will change the world!

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Overcoming an Overwhelming Amount of Change

Even if I wanted to stop the changes in my life, I don’t think I could.

My kids are growing up, and with their growth comes new lessons for me as a parent.

My career is expanding into new assignments and new locations: constant change and a different type of growth.

And now I’ve added to that learning all about book publication, marketing, and distribution.  Now, I’m tired.

When I’m overwhelmed by change, I focus on a piece I know I can control.

For example, I can’t control the tax codes across states, let alone countries, so I’m going to avoid tackling that for now.  But, I can control who I reach out to with the news about the book’s publication. Plus, with that option I get to reconnect with old friends. Yes, I’ll focus on that for now.

You will get overwhelmed, but you don’t have to stay overwhelmed.  Find something to focus on, hold on to it and rest, then get back to swimming through the sea of change.  You can do it.  I believe in you!

Why not try?

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Published!

My graduation, first from high school, then from college.  My wedding day.  The birth of my first, second, third, then fourth child.  These were the days I’ve looked forward to most in my life.  After those moments, I was most looking forward to today: the day I became a published author.  I’ve been looking forward to this day for at least the last ten years, maybe the last fifteen.  Now that it’s here, I’m finding it hard to contain my joy.

Everyone is a Change AgentI love books.  I love authors. I love change agents.  Today, my passions were merged with the publication of Everyone is a Change Agent.  You can get the book in paperback right away at my online store. 

Thank you to so many people who helped make today happen.

To my husband and kids who share me with my passion for sharing the message of successful change.  Special thanks to Ted for letting me both tell stories about him and write the book from his hospital room this June.

Thanks to all the people who reviewed the early copies of the book: Joe Bradley, Julia Bulacio, Colette Berna, Roxanne Bryson, Scott Button, Adam Cetnerowski, Mike Doyle, Rolf Goetz, Steve Holt, Jay Johnson, Danuta Luczak-Wieczorek, Giuseppe Miccoli, Lesley Artyn Nolan, Rae Anne Randall, Jean Richardson, Hilbert Robinson, Andrea Shapiro, Gabriela Simone, Rhea Stadick, Rebekah Uhtoff, Mike Wellborn, and Sunny Wheeler.

Thanks to Mike Hannan and Dan Diamond for teaching me how to publish.

Thanks to Maureen Hannan for being my amazing copy editor.

Thanks to everyone at Bremerton Beyond Accessible Play for creating a playground and a story I love to tell over and over.

Thanks to John Kotter, Dennis Goin, and the Guiding Coalition members at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF).

Thanks to the members of Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department at PSNS & IMF (or at least the people who were there 10+ years ago when I was making such a mess of creating change).

And, finally, thanks to Bob Steinmetz for always (and I mean ALWAYS) asking me, “When are you going to write your book?”

You have my lifelong gratitude.

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Memory Lane – Links to fuel your change

As I ramp into a new adventure, I’m reminded of some old memories and the blog posts that captured the learning.

Here are a few that have come up in the past few days and are useful for change agents to remember.

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Chief Acceleration Officer

The future is today!

In July 2000, Fast Company published a Job Titles of the Future: Chief Acceleration Officer.

A quick search shows at least four people who have held this title:

There are some who are advocating for recasting the Chief Information Officers as Chief Acceleration Officers too.

Lloyd was responsible for accelerating code development and  Todd for accelerating entrepreneuring at the university.  Those are both narrow applications of acceleration.  Marjorie was responsible for wide-ranging changes in the Truman Medical Center organization, but, as the comments to the above article mention, left without delivering results.  Only Timothy is still in his position, and he only received it in January 2015.

These were all noble attempts at creating a definition of a Chief Acceleration Officer, but they all miss the full scope of what a position like this, filled with a capable officer, could achieve for the 99% of organizations struggling to deal with the rate of change today.

Why am I qualified to define this role?  Because I have been living on the leading edge of change implementation for the past 10 years.  In 2010, John Kotter, said of my work leading the Guiding Coalition at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, that,

Only 15 percent of all organizations are really trying to understand how to live with and respond to the rate of change.  Of the organizations, 15 percent are trying to move in a direction that they know works, 14 of the 15 percent are struggling because of the culture or environment that drives them.  Only 1 percent of the organizations in the world are making progress; they are doing what you all are doing.”

Since then I’ve been pushing the limits beyond this compliment into higher success percentage results, shorter team launch times, and great global and organizational reach.  All of that has prepared me to define the Chief Acceleration Officer from the perspective of someone who could actually deliver on the promise of the position.

My bold claim is that this is the Chief Acceleration Officer that every organization will soon want:


Chief Acceleration Officer 

Reporting Structure: Reports directly to the Chief Executive Officer and partners with officers across the organization.

Job Description: 

The Chief Acceleration Officer (CAO) is the catalyst for organizational change. She partners with thriving leaders at all levels to architect systems and solutions that accelerate results and delight customers now and for years to come.

The CAO understands the recipes for change management and delivers the capability beyond change management, change leadership.  While other organizations struggle to achieve even 50% success with change, a CAO delivers improved organizational outcomes more than 75% of the time.  While other organizations create 3 to 5 year plans for change implementation, the CAO enables her organization to shrink implementation times by 50% or more.

The CAO models the organizational changes and clears the obstacles for the organization, suppliers, and customers to follow.  She will drive change, not people, creating accelerated results and sustainable success.

The CAO would have a working knowledge of human resources, finance, business development, engineering, manufacturing, and operations with a depth of knowledge in change implementation principles essential for today’s rapidly accelerating markets.

The CAO is also responsible for creating change implementation capability across the workforce, developing and sustaining leadership ability to accelerate change within functions and across the organization.  Investing in a CAO today produces results for decades to come.


Who’s ready for a true Chief Acceleration Officer?  Why not try?

0039-crop

I’ll enable you.

After 31 July 2016, I’m available for hire either as Chief Acceleration Officer or an executive mentor to your Chief Acceleration Officer.

Send your requests to: engineforchange@gmail.com.

Engagement dates and opportunities are filling up fast. Contact me today.

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