Alignment, Accountability, and Priorities

Steve Peterson, of Artemis International Solutions Corporation, spoke about portfolio management at last night's Sacramento Valley PMI meeting.

Steve reported that, at a recent meeting of state CIOs, the CIOs cited alignment and accountability as their most pressing concerns.

That triggered a few thoughts for me. First, if you want alignment, you will have to prioritize. In my experience, the biggest threat to alignment is that everything is top priority. The people who are doing the work can't do everything at once. So when you make everything top priority, people work to their own priorities. If you're lucky, their priorities will match what you most want. How lucky are you?

Treating everything as top priority also causes another problem, perhaps more important than the first. Even if the people doing the work prioritize the work in a way that benefits you, they don't know it. People want to know that their work is valuable—and valued. In other words, people want to be aligned. If you don't express your priorities clearly, how will people know what you value? How will they know whether they are aligned?

The CIOs' second biggest concern is accountability. That triggered another thought, that initially went like this. "If you want accountability, you will have to call people to account. I'm typically skeptical of managers' claims that their people are not accountable. If you are tempted to make such a claim, consider first examining whether and how you are asking them to account for themselves."

But something nagged at me. Something about that advice didn't feel right. There's something deeper going on here, and the something deeper is... alignment. I've been on a number of highly aligned teams. On every one of those teams, people accounted to each other—and, more importantly, to themselves—all the time.

I'm tentatively concluding that alignment breeds accountability. If that's true, then if you want accountability, focus on alignment. Alignment and accountability rest on clear priorities.

What are your priorities?

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