Taking Responsibility

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Are You a Chicken or a Pig?

“You know that most people don’t take responsibility, don’t you?”  This came from a colleague of mine in a recent conversation.  To most people, this is an obvious (and sad) fact—one of those commonly understood platitudes that resonate deeply when repeated.  Why is this something that’s taken for granted, as if it couldn’t be changed?

How many times have you encountered a problem, big or small, and for one reason or another not sought a solution?  Are you getting stuck?  Where?

Christopher Avery—speaker, mentor, author—posits that the root of the problem is that you’re not taking responsibility.

Avery has created a visual model for The Responsibility Process.  Here’s how it works: responsibility is all about how we respond when things go wrong (perhaps we should call it RESPONDsibility).

There are five hurdles plaguing the path towards owning up to your own lackluster responses:

Denial: First we deny that the problem exists, which causes us to not address it.  There are many reasons why we’d turn a blind eye to a dilemma.  Maybe the potential solution is too complicated and time-consuming.  Maybe it hinges on our own mistakes.  Or maybe we’re just lazy.

Lay Blame: It’s not me; it’s not my problem.  How many times have you sought a scapegoat for the ugly crisis on your plate?  By blaming someone or something else, we again fail to address the problem, as we cannot change all outside influencing factors.  We also assume that because it’s someone else’s fault, it’s beyond our capabilities to address it.

Justify: “That’s just the way things run around here.”  Again, we make it so the problem is out of our control, or that somehow it’s okay that the problem exists.  Sometimes we fabricate a rationale for why the problem is just in our own minds.  If we make it so it’s commonplace and fundamentally understood, what can we possibly do to fix it, and why?

Shame: Dust off the hairshirt—in this hurdle we move the blame from an external force to ourselves.  So we beat ourselves up and aren’t likely to learn from mistakes or exude productive resourcefulness because of the mental burden we’ve adopted.  Shame might be confused with taking responsibility, but it’s not—taking responsibility is actually moving forward and addressing the problem rather than wallowing in shame.

Obligation: Now that we’ve saddled ourselves with the weight of shame, we suddenly feel obligated to find a solution.  Feeling obligated to do something is not productive.  Rather than giving it our best, we produce C-grade material, rushed and haphazard.  We’re not going to do more than the barest of minimums, so the end results are no more than shrug-worthy.

Quit: Note that the quit state is the steam valve that opens when the pain of shame or weight of obligation becomes too great and we’re incapable of taking ownership.  So what happens?  We check out, give up, and fold.

If you manage to escape or evade these debilitating states of being, you can then pursue responsibility—the place where you’re free to choose and able to confront difficult situations head-on with effective resources.

Avery points out that the smarter we are, the more fantastical our slippery stories become.  There are six ways to get stuck and only one way to dig ourselves out: responsibility.  When we’re stuck in one of the six states, we’re out of the flow, disconnected, and not in a “learning state” that allows us to comprehend what’s happening and what needs to be done.  Think of the six states listed above as coping mechanisms—Swiss cheese rationale bent on derailing progression.

Now that you grasp what’s holding you back, what are you going to do about it?

Avery provides us with three key concepts to get you on track.

Intention: You need to have a firm grasp on your intentions—why are you doing this and what do you hope to gain?  Be clear in your mind that you’re going to pursue and accept responsibility.  Own up to it.

Awareness: You also need to be aware of your mental state.  Are you stuck in one of the six states above?  Being aware of where you’re at is a step towards conquering it and moving on.

Confrontation: Tackle your mindset and wrestle it to the ground.  Be aware that you may leap from one stuck state to another—still, this is considered progress.  Confronting your issues is far more difficult than intention and awareness, as you need to humble yourself and accept that there’s much to learn.  This is done incrementally, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not in the clear immediately.

For more information on Avery’s methods, check out this video from InfoQ.  If you want a more detailed explanation of his responsibility framework, here’s a WebEx video that’s worth watching (the good stuff comes at minute 12).  Avery also has a book, which CNN practically hails as the bible of responsibility and team-building.

By now you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with being a chicken or a pig.

Here’s a cartoon that classifies each role.

Taking responsibility
Image courtesy of implementingscrum.com

The story goes that a chicken and a pig meet up and discuss starting a restaurant.  The pig declines, his reasoning being that he’d be committed to the project whereas the chicken would only be involved.  If you’re a pig, you’re taking responsibility.  In terms of businesses, pigs represent the team, the product owners, and the chickens represent the customers.  Chickens enable the project; pigs are responsible for delivery—responsible being the key word here.

The chicken and the pig scenario is built into the concept of scrum, which was developed by Dr. Jeff SutherlandOpenView runs on the scrum principles and most of us are certified scrum masters.

If you’re unfamiliar with scrum, here’s a quick rundown of its core elements:

Scrum is a project management structure that involves three roles: the Scrum Master, the Product Owner, and the Team.  The Scrum Master maintains the process; the Product Owner represents the stakeholders of the business; and the Team is the group responsible for the implementation, i.e. the analysis, design, and testing cycles.

Scrum is built around the concept of taking responsibility.  It recognizes that minds change during the process of creation and that unpredicted challenges cannot easily be met without accepting full responsibility.

Structured meetings are a requirement of an effective scrum organization.  Each day includes a project status meeting.  This meeting’s schedule is rigorous and only those who’ve adopted the “pig” role may speak.  Each team member must own up to the responsibilities that have been designated to their role—this involves discussing the challenges faced and the processes of overcoming said challenges.

For more information on scrum, check out Ken Schwaber’s oft-mentioned book Agile Software Development with Scrum.  Note that Scrum was first used in product development circles, but has been spreading rapidly into other functional areas and overall company development with great success.

The only way you’re going to conquer your hindrances and move forward with your business is to embrace responsibility.  So while you may never help others get out of the responsibility traps, you can certainly set an example and lead—you’re not most people; you’re a pig, which means you’re committed (insulting as that sounds).