It is indeed this topic very close to heart for many of us, isn’t it?
Each of us will have stories of frustration to share on how we were appraised poorly, received low bonuses, promoted last, long arguments with boss & colleagues and in some cases even lost our jobs for no fault of ours!
When goals come from seniors, in good spirits, it is assumed as everyone’s responsibility to meet them. But when really things don’t go as they were planned, scapegoats are born.
I have seen lack of responsibility in the following situations:
a) Ownership issues for failures between departments. For example, if there’s staff attrition, is that HR or Line Manager who owns this failure
b) Ownership issued within homogeneous teams. For example, lack of ownership on team sales target among sales staff of that team
While (a) has been difficult to resolve traditionally, (b) is not so much a problem when the Manager exercises good control (Top-down).
Catch-ball technique, a part of Hoshin Planning is a very effective method to encourage employees to take ownership and empower them.
As the name suggests, the ‘ball’ of responsibility is thrown between team members till consensus is arrived. In essence, it is a series of constructive and dialogue-based process where team members discuss and agree on ownership of targets.
Unlike the traditional top-down approach, manager doesn’t thrust targets on his team. In this technique, she proposes a target and allows the team to debate on the capabilities, constraints,resources, etc., before they agree on a goal. If they disagree, the manager has an opportunity to review the target, as she too hasn’t agreed the target with her manager.
Thus the mechanism involves several rounds of discussion between team members before goals are agreed. From an organizational perspective, the CEO/business leader gets to know by the end of ‘catch-balls’ if the target set by him is achievable or not; and the constraints associated with it.
In my personal experience, as people get to discuss about the target in advance, several opportunities arise, such as:
A lot of planning activity gets accomplished upfront, rather than putting it for later months
There is thorough understanding about the target – what needs to be accomplished, when, how, challenges, levers, etc, among all the team members
Team members get opportunity to mingle and understand each other better. Especially in today’s environment where staffs rotate every 2 years and we end up dealing with new members every time, these catch-ball sessions help.
Many targets require participation from other functions, like the above example of staff attrition. So in this case, may be attrition due to ‘managerial’ issues can be owned by line management and those due to ‘compensation & retention’ by HR. Something like this cannot be agreed till such time discussions happen. In preparation to such achieving such a target, a robust data collection mechanism at the time of staff exit has to be implemented. Such aspects don’t get discussed in traditional goal setting.
When targets are not achievable, it encourages dialogues with Managers or Senior Managers on why it can’t be achieved. Such situations usually force managers to empower their teams. So, even when a manager is ‘control-freak’, he is forced to empower his team.
Due to the nature of discussions, when catch-ball technique is used over 1 or 2 years for annual planning sessions, there is a big change in company’s culture. People are open and transparent. They see each other eye-to-eye and they learn to agree to disagree.
Many times, when targets are unachievable, people accept such targets only to see how they can palm it off later when things don’t work. They probably know of other constraints that can be their ‘official’ reasons for failure – clearly cases of procrastination and finger pointing. Such situations don’t occur as ‘Catch-ball’ encourages discussion and subsequently ‘Kanri’ ensures rigorous monthly monitoring.
As illustrated in the article of ‘bottom-up’ example, teams tend to achieve more than the target and that too willingly.
In order to learn more about how catch-ball technique is executed, refer to my article titled ‘How to implement Catch-ball Technique’