How to Make Sure Someone Does Something

Whenever I see metrics used as targets or accountabilities that start with “Ensuring…” or “Achieving…” I realize there is some deeper confusion about how Holacracy works.

Some confusion is because practitioners try using accountabilities for things that would work better as policies. For example, an accountability that says, “Sending venue confirmation emails a month before the scheduled date,” only requires the role-filler consciously consider doing that activity. That’s pretty weak leverage.

Of course, people want to know, “So, how do I make sure someone does something?” The challenge is that Holacracy’s rules don’t give you a conventional pathway for that; the conventional way being, “hope and blame” commitments, or “I get you to agree to something so I can forget about it, and blame you if you don’t do it.”

The assumption behind the need to “make sure,” is that the other person wouldn’t do it otherwise. I have to coerce them. I’m assuming little intrinsic motivation, which is usually accurate in an environment in which there isn’t much actual decision making authority. However, with Holacracy practice, every role-filler is now responsible for (and cares about) their roles. They have the full authority to use their judgement in their roles and what many recovering control-freaks realize is that in this environment, many anticipated issues never come about because the role-filler recognized the problem for herself.

So, while it may seem like Holacracy has removed the ability to control, it’s more accurate to say, the rules of Holacracy achieve that end through a more sober view of reality — which is, “Life is unpredictable — we often don’t have control over what happens.” Therefore, in order to make sure something happens (if you really care about it), just ask.

  • Want to know what another circle member is working on? Just ask. He has a duty to track projects and next actions and respond to your question.
  • Want to know what work a circle member is prioritizing? Just ask. She has a duty to respond to your question.
  • Want to know when a circle member plans on finishing something? Just ask. She has a duty to give you a rough estimate (a projection).
  • Want a circle member to share updates on a regular basis? Just ask. Request a new project or checklist items. He has a duty to report on during tactical meetings.
  • Is a circle member not getting stuff done? Just ask. What’s going on? Any barriers in the way? Does he have a plan to get things back on track? He has a duty to respond.
  • Want a circle member to do something specific, or work towards a specific outcome? Just ask. She has a duty to do take it and track it, or explain why she can’t.
  • Waiting for a response to a question about any of the above? Just ask. Circle members must focus on getting back to a colleague’s request over executing his own work.

So, how do you make sure someone does something? Well, you don’t because you can’t control people (and I don’t mean you shouldn’t, I mean you can’t). Instead, every role-filler has certain fundamental rights. Things like the right to make decisions using their own best judgment within the defined rules, expectations, authorities, and agreements (and of course, you can always add or change those expectations through governance).

Even if can coerce someone to do your bidding, does it really work? The best you can hope for is temporary compliance. There’s no ownership, because they don’t know why it’s important.

By disallowing hope/blame “what by whens,” the rules achieve the same result through transparency and clear agreements and expectations, which is simply a more humane and effective way of getting things done.