Be responsible, take action
August 7, 2018, 6 min read
Let's talk about responsibility. Because to act responsible, we have to know what responsibilities to look for in a work-related context.
You have some explicit responsibilities and some implicit responsibilites. Everything that is stated in your employment contract form the explicit responsibilities and this is also where you most likely will find your KPI's. Your explicit responsibilities are closely related to your working title, but might span a bit outside your field of expertise.
But with every hire there is an expectation and a hope that this employee can lift the overall value of the company. Not by herself, but because she together with her closest colleagues can create something better, smarter or optimize something else to reduce costs. This is rarely talked about, but every HR or hire manager has this hope when hiring a new key employee. That is what you refer to as your gut feeling and that is what I call the implicit responsibilities.
The greatest challenge for you is that your explicit and your implicit responsibilities are not aligned. Actually they are far from aligned. Everyone wants you to meet your implicit responsibilities, but no one are capable of actually describing exactly what that is. And because of that you will find your KPI's in the explicit responsibilities.
Your KPI's are probably pointing towards your activity and thereby attendance. And that is often because it is very difficult to measure true value creation. If you are working with innovation and want to create new things, then how can you define measurable KPI's before you even know what to build?
– You probably can't.
Many are trying. They measure whether they have gained new insights, whether they have build enough prototypes and if they managed to build MVP's. But everyone can do that. The important thing is whether these things bring value to the company. True value measured in revenue streams.
Essentially that is what all jobs should aim for. Creating true value to the company resulting in increased revenue. But how do you measure a customer service agent's work in revenue streams? How do you measure the work of a designer directly in the revenue streams?
Let's look at it another way and maybe climb up the ladder to take a more abstract approach.
Alone, you are probably not going to change the world and you definitely can't be held responsible for any changes to planet earth.
You can only impact that much yourself, but if you start voicing your opinion, if you start standing up for your beliefs and if you start to cut the crap and kill the bad ideas then you are acting responsible.
And I promise you; if you do that, you will become your own sphere's Elon Musk. People will follow you and they will support you to make positive changes.
As a business leader you have an amazing opportunity to really make an impact. If you take action you also act responsibly.
Responsibility starts with purpose
To prepare yourself, you have to start questioning before you even start your job. Question your KPI's, question why that is the right way to measure your performance and aim to turn your KPI's in direction of something more meaningful.
Is the marketers KPI actually the click-through-rate in the newsletter? Is the salesmans KPI actually the amount of booked meetings? Is the developers KPI actually the amount of bugs fixed? What if we form our KPI's in a more purposeful approach?
If we can dig a bit deeper into the implicit responsibilities, if we can agree on what true value we should contribute with, then we might be better suited to actually create a set of KPI's that matches with the unspoken expectations. But this is not easy. And it shouldn't be.
Many companies actually struggle to describe exactly what problem they are solving and are not completely tuned in at their purpose. And if the company is not even aware, it becomes more and more difficult for employees to be responsible and take action.
Making better and purposeful KPI's
Time, errors, opportunities and costs. Does that sound motivating or controlling?
I have an ambigous relationships to such KPI's. On one hand I understand that it is difficult to decide the price of a consultancy project you don't know where will end, but on the other hand how can we then be sure that the time spend equals the outcome. What if I nail it within two weeks instead of spending two months? What if I never nail it? And how do we even know if I nailed it?
Those factors make time a bad KPI. That is probably why you only see it as a measurement between companies. You rarely use time as an internal KPI – and if you do, it is to avoid spending too much of it. You want more productivity, more effeciency and less time wasting. But is reducing time actually what you want? Probably not. You want to reduce costs, but what if that compromise the quality of your work, what if that compromise the service of the customers and what if that eventually means reduced revenue.
If you feel that your business need to optimize in order to create greater profits, then maybe reducing time is not the place to start. Maybe it is, but you don't know. There might be a far greater opportunity in optimizing a cumbersome process somewhere in your service flow. But working towards a time focused KPI is not of your interest.
That is exactly why you should challenge your KPI's and ask the stupid questions. Ask why these KPI's are relevant and how they contribute to the overall purpose of the company.
I know that many consultancy companies measure their consultants by the time spend at customers, and this is a two-sided KPI. They are measured as salesmen and they are measured as consultants. But this KPI is only relevant for internal use. There is nothing within that KPI that refers to the customer. There is nothing that measure how well the consultant is actually performing outside the ''internal sphere of higher profits''. And that's a shame.
We actually have a situation where lawyers and consultants do their job without being questioned too much. Yes a lawyer know what she is doing and might therefore be expensive, but how can you argue that the job done is equal to the amount of hours spend?
– But what is the alternative?
To agree on a new set of more purposeful KPI's we need to be more reflective as customers. As an entrepreneur I have to be clear and tell the lawyer exactly what I expect from her. I have to tell in which areas I am insecure about a certain contract and tell her where she can bring value. Once that has been aired, we need to collectively agree on what her services is worth. That has to fit into the budget, and it has to make sense for her. That is a whole different way of approaching any given exchange of services, and it is far more complex.
That is probably what stops us. We have become used to measure our time in money.
Ambitious goals and a strong vision
So if we are that troubled when creating meaningful KPI's, we need to step even further backwards. We need to go back to our FOMO. Our fear of missing out.
When we are balancing our fears – the fear of missing out and the fear of a better option – we need clear and ambitious goals and a strong vision to follow. If we are bound in meaningless KPI's that does nothing but refer to increased revenue or reduced costs, then we are navigating a ship without direction.
If I were running a pharmaceutical company developing and selling allergy pills I would definitely be afraid that my competitors develop a brand new digital solution to help their customers or that we maybe invested too much in the wrong digital solution without any great returns. But without a vision and ambitious goals for the company I would be even more afraid, because I wouldn't know how to navigate.
To be responsible you have to take action and question your company's vision, the goals and your own KPI's. You need to continously ask why in order to fully understand the meaning of your work. And by doing that you can escape the meaningless work, meaningless meetings, meaningless projects and the meaningless ideas.
To be an idea assassin you should always strive to understand the underlying reasons and meaning. It is your responsibility as an idea assassin to fully comprehend your purpose and the implicit responsibilities. But if you do so, you will end up with a more focused mindset, the ability to balance your fears and leave a stronger impression in your surroundings.
Your most important responsibility is to understand your purpose. Once you do that, you know what to learn.