Empowerment ranks right up there with motherhood and apple pie on most people’s list of absolute goods. But there’s a fine line between decentralization and abrogation. High -performing decentralized organizations focused on service and customer experience operate with guided accountability. Not giving decentralized leaders that guidance is an abrogation of senior leadership’s responsibilities and a recipe for chaos.
The framework for What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point is laid out in that earlier article. The main point is that you must align your culture, organization, operations and CEO’s real job around one of four strategies. This current article explores the organization required to support service or customer experience strategy.
The fundamental premise of decentralization is that some decisions are better made closer to the point of contact with customers, guests or competitors. Consider the difference between strategies and tactics.
- Strategos – The art of the general, arranging forces before the battle.
- Taktikos – Deployment of forces in the actual battle.
As a business leader, there is a range of how much delegation and leverage you choose – from doing things yourself through directing, partnering, coaching to abrogating.
- Do – Highest control/least leverage
- Direct – High control/leverage over actions
- Partner – Shared control and leverage
- Guide – High leverage/moderate control
- Abrogate – Infinite leverage with no control or influence
When you things yourself they get done the way you want to do them. But there’s no leverage of your time or ideas as, by definition, no one else is helping you.
When you direct or tell someone to do something, the best you can hope for is compliance. If your core strategy is production, compliance is what you need. You keep control over people’s thinking and have high leverage through their actions.
Partners share. They share thinking. They share actions. They share control. They leverage each other. This is what happens in a high-performing matrix.
Guided accountability is the most appropriate approach for a decentralized organization. You get high leverage through others’ actions. You get some control and a lot of influence through your guiding strategies and principles. And you get the benefit of others’ thinking.
Abrogating responsibility is a wonderful thing – if you don’t care what others do. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you don’t care about some of the minor details. In these cases, delegating without managing is a sound approach. It’s never the right approach for something that’s important to you.
But if you are going to be best in class at service and customer experience, you’ll need to push service decisions as close to the customer as possible. This is the essence of a decentralized organization. Do this within the framework of guiding principles. Do this with the “E” in CEO standing for chief “Experience” officer, always championing customer experience in everything you are, do, and say.
The Ritz-Carleton exemplifies guided accountability. They operate as “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” and focus on superior service all the time. If you tell any bellboy about a broken TV in your room, that bellboy will take ownership of getting it fixed. They won’t necessarily do the work. But they are accountable for making sure the problem is fixed and that your experience is as good as it can be.
Keys to effective decentralization
The key to success in a decentralized organization is guided accountability. Guided accountability has two parts. The accountability has to be real. That means it has to be delegated – for real. And it has to be accepted – for real. Accountability is a two-edged sword with positive consequences for success and negative consequences for failure.
The second part is the guidance. This has to be clear enough for people to know what you expect them to do in most cases. And it has to be loose enough for them to be free to do the right thing for the customers and bend the guidelines a little.
Implications for you
This is the only possible road to success for a service-oriented organization.