By Robbert van Os
Posted on 2023-08-30T00:00:00.000Z

Implementing Decentralized Leadership Accountability: A Practical Guide

Unlock the power of decentralized leadership accountability with actionable strategies, real-world cases, and a practical implementation checklist.

Implementing Decentralized Leadership: A Step-by-Step Guide

In our previous article, Decentralized Leadership Accountability: An Introduction, we explored the concept and benefits of decentralized leadership. This guide provides a step-by-step project plan and bonus checklist to successfully implement decentralized leadership in your organization.

Implementing decentralized leadership enables innovation, agility, and engagement by empowering employees at all levels. But it requires careful planning and phased execution.

How to Implement Decentralized Leadership

In organizations where people do not believe that formal accountability can emerge from a defined process or venue, it can be difficult to hold anyone accountable for decisions, let alone senior leadership. Decisions drive business performance, yet many organizations lack clarity on who makes which decisions and how. Decision rights refer to the rules and practices around three key questions:

  • Who makes the decisions? Decision rights models outline the hierarchy of decision-makers and groups.
  • What decisions must be made? A decision inventory identifies the most important decisions at each level.
  • How are decisions made? Decision-making processes define the procedures and forums for making decisions.

Getting decision rights clearly defined is essential, yet often overlooked. Organizations that excel at five key attributes have greater clarity and accountability around decision rights:

  1. Simplify and clarify decision rights across the organization
  2. Establish strong, transparent accountability
  3. Align decision-making groups to a common mission
  4. Encourage distributed authority
  5. Prioritize the customer voice in decisions

Example: A leading tech company, after facing bottlenecks in their decision-making process, decided to implement decentralized leadership. By clearly defining decision rights, they enabled their teams at various levels to make key decisions without waiting for approvals from the top. This change not only expedited their project timelines but also instilled a sense of responsibility and ownership among employees.

Let's start with a step-by-step plan

1. Prepare for Change

Deliverable: Change management plan


  • Conduct change impact assessment
  • Identify change champions
  • Develop change management strategy and plan
  • Train leaders on change management

2. Define Implementation Approach

Deliverable: Implementation plan


  • Set implementation goals
  • Determine rollout strategy (pilot vs organization-wide)
  • Develop detailed implementation plan and timeline
  • Create budget estimates
  • Assign roles and responsibilities

3. Communicate the Vision

Deliverable: Internal communications plan


  • Develop messaging and talking points
  • Create communications plan
  • Hold leadership alignment sessions
  • Communicate to organization through meetings, emails, intranet

4. Analyze Current Structure

Deliverable: Current state analysis report


  • Document current organizational structure
  • Map out decision-making processes
  • Identify centralized areas to be decentralized
  • Interview employees for insights into current challenges

5. Design Future Structure

Deliverable: Future state organizational design


  • Redesign organizational structure, roles, decision-making processes
  • Consult experts/research best practices
  • Collaborate with leaders and employees on design
  • Document decentralized decision-making framework

6. Develop Training Programs

Deliverable: Training strategy and content


  • Assess training needs
  • Create training programs on decentralization
  • Develop skills training (e.g. critical thinking)
  • Deliver training to employees and leaders

7. Transition to New Structure

Deliverable: Updated policies, processes, job roles


  • Implement redesigned organizational structure
  • Roll out decentralized decision-making
  • Modify policies and processes to support decentralization
  • Provide ongoing training and support

Bonus Checklist for Implementation

Once the foundations are in place, this bonus checklist provides further guidance:

  • Establish open communication channels
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities
  • Empower decision-making at all levels
  • Implement accountability mechanisms
  • Continuously evaluate and improve

The phased approach, illustrated by real-world examples and accompanied by the bonus checklist, is designed to guide you seamlessly through the journey of implementing effective decentralized leadership. Embracing this model will enable your organization to adapt to changing environments, foster innovation, and harness the collective intelligence and insights of all employees. Dive in and embark on this transformative journey.