This article proposes a simplified framework through which complex organisations can be viewed. The intention is not to suggest that complex structures be abandoned, in most cases these exist through necessity and to ensure the varied and complex demands placed upon the business can be met. The purpose of the article is to aid understanding of the principle role undertaken by all employees and the associated accountabilities and responsibilities that are held.
Achieving a satisfactory level of performance in an efficient and effective way is a challenge for all organisations that has prevailed throughout time.
The modern complexities of managing in global and diverse markets with intense competition, stringent customer demands and increasing legislation require large and complex organisation structures with multiple management levels within the hierarchy. The challenge of achieving optimum organisation performance is ever present and the consequences of falling short can be immediate and painful.
STEP 1 – Be clear what we mean by accountability and responsibility
When an organisation struggles to be effective this can be due to people being unclear about the difference between accountability andresponsibility¹.Note that it is entirely acceptable to delegate responsibility for doing work, i.e. asking someone else to do something for us. However we cannot delegate accountability. Even if the task was delegated, the accountable person will still answer to the organisation leadership for the outcome, good or bad.
· Answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving
· That duty the organisation expects us to fulfil
· Goes with the job
CANNOT BE DELEGATED
· Being in charge, being the owner of a task or event
· In most cases is that same duty for which we are accountable
CAN BE DELEGATED
STEP 2 – The art of good delegation
Poorly delegated tasks can leave the recipient unclear about what is required, or even that they are the ones expected to do the work. The outcome is often unsatisfactory to all involved, with remedial work required and late completion in stressful circumstances.
Getting the process of delegation right is fundamental to building trust between leaders and their reporting staff members. Good delegation and ongoing support is vital for building trust and strong working relationships. Trust is a vital ingredient for building an effective organisation and although this topic is not covered here in detail, more can be learned in The Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feltman².
Be clear what the task involves.
Be clear what a good outcome looks like.
Ensure that the person accepting the task is willing and capable to perform.
Ensure that the person receiving the task accepts ownership for completion.
STEP 3 – Understand three key organisation roles
Larger organisations often use a variety of job titles to describe or differentiate positions within the hierarchy, and this is especially so where there are multiple levels of management and complex hierarchies spanning global functions and local business areas. Understanding the principle role that each employee undertakes is crucial in achieving an effective and efficient organisation performance (see schematic below).
There can be only one business strategy, one vision and one set of guiding values – in summary one PLAN. The most senior leaders in the organisation, defined here as Executive, are accountable for defining the goals that support the PLAN. This PLAN is rarely stable and requires continual fine tuning to cater for continually changing competitive and economic (environmental) factors. Conversely, the desired culture and employee behaviours that are defined will rarely change. The interaction and leadership provided by the Executive is a crucial activity, and although not covered here in detail, this is a principle topic in The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni³.
Reporting to the Executive are the levels of Manager, these are the people accountable for implementing the PLAN. A shared interpretation of the PLAN, between Executive and Manager levels, is vital along with agreement on task delegation. The outcome of regular dialogue between these two hierarchy levels will be a schedule of short, medium and longer term objectives that both believe is achievable, having taken account of available resource and skills within the department. Any gaps in Staff/Worker skill or resource that would hamper or prevent achievement of the PLAN will be identified by the Manager and agreement reached with the Executive on addressing these concerns.
Reporting to the Manager are the Staff/Worker groups that are accountable for doing the work. A shared understanding of how the PLAN will be executed is vital, and this requires regular dialogue on the schedule of objectives and shared agreement on task delegation.
A vital part of this process is regular and open communication between the hierarchy levels. The environment in which organisations perform is subject to constant change and this will often impact how an organisation PLAN can be executed. Through regular communication, all levels will continually fine tune implementation, and expectations at Manager and Executive levels will be maintained. By honouring these key roles and accountabilities the business can effectively and efficiently achieve execution of the PLAN.
This article has taken a deliberately simplified look at organisations and how the levels of hierarchy interact to create a business PLAN that is aligned and ultimately achieved. The framework is intended to help employees understand the principle roles that are undertaken at the three levels of hierarchy, recognising that often job titles do not correlate with these principle roles. Organisations will continue to deploy complex structures to enable them to meet the many and varied demands of operating in global and intensely competitive markets. In pursuit of ever greater efficiencies and effectiveness of operation, organisations will continue to empower and delegate, however this does not change accountability for the principles roles that people fulfil. This framework has been proposed to aid understanding and application and thereby ensure the organisation retains a clear focus on the future and how to work towards achieving the business PLAN.
The Thin Book of Trust; An Essential Primer for Building Trust At Work by Charles Feltman, 2008
The Advantage; Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business by Patrick Lencioni, 2012