Philippe Paquet Tech blogging from Los Angeles

21Oct/08Off

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible

One of the major problems organizations have is accountability. Nothing gets done and nobody is accountable for that. Accountability can be a problem of it's own when there is no enforcement but it's usually the symptom of a deeper and more serious problem: responsibility. Time and time again, I've seen both the quasi paralysis and the damages caused by unclear or, even worse, undefined responsibilities. Responsibilities are to be clearly defined. By clearly defined, here is what I mean:

  • There's one and only one person responsible for an area. This is very important as the sentiment of responsibility is inversely proportional to the number of people that are responsible. When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.

  • The boundaries of an area of responsibility are well defined. It's very easy to give an area of responsibility to someone but unless there is a clear and agreed definition of the boundaries you're going to have gaps. If you have ever heard things like "I thought that marketing was covering that." or "Isn't that responsibility of production?" then you know what I'm talking about.

  • The person responsible for an area knows what they are responsible for. I know that sounds obvious but very often it is a problem. Responsibilities need to be clearly communicated. You can't just assume that someone knows what they are responsible for, you have to tell them.

  • The person responsible for an area agree to be responsible for it. Whether you impose responsibilities from a position of authority or you broker an agreement between peers or with your superior doesn't matter. If you don't have an agreement, you're wasting your time.

  • Everybody needs to know what people are responsible for. Knowing who is responsible for what will help people to direct information to the right person. Additionally, peer pressure will help to improve overall performance. When everybody knows what you supposed to do, everybody can see if you're doing it or not.

Only after responsibilities have been clearly defined will you be able to efficiently take care of accountability problems and manage performance. Save yourself time, money and headaches by making sure responsibilities are clearly defined before starting any kind of project.

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