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Posted: June 25, 2013

Best of CoBiz: Create accountability

Don't delegate it

Laurence B. Valant

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance.

Organization planning is 75 percent of the formula for successful business performance.

While organization in terms of structure, function and staffing is not the entire answer to effective performance, it is at least 75 percent of the formula for success.

Effective leadership and effective management are critical, but even the best visions, strategies and plans will fail without an effective organization to execute those strategies. However, when a clear understanding of what is required organizationally to carry out the company's objectives is combined with an organization that is correctly structured and staffed, success is almost assured.

When a company has competent committed people working together in harmony within a structure that defines roles, responsibilities and levels of authority, they will make plan and enjoy working together to do so.

Every business manager or leader should take the time to understand why a strong organization is crucial, and then plan for and build their organizations correctly. Their time could not be spent more productively.

Accountability can be created but cannot be delegated.

I can't tell you how many times I have heard managers say, "I can't meet my commitments because my people didn't get their stuff done on time." Interestingly, such managers seem to think the fact that their people didn't get "their stuff done on time" gets them off the hook. They are dead wrong.

It is impossible to delegate accountability - A manager can delegate responsibility and the authority to carry out those responsibilities, but they can never escape the ultimate accountability that is theirs alone.

Getting to accountability is the heart of effective management. In order to create accountability in a direct report, the manager must communicate his expectations unambiguously. The direct report must clearly understand what he must deliver. Once direct reports understand what is expected, and if they believe they have the capability of meeting those requirements, the direct reports will be prepared to commit. Then and only then can the manager hold his or her direct reports account

In this manner, the manager has created accountability, but has not delegated their own accountability, for the manager is always accountable for their direct report's performance and for the delivery of their own commitments.

Quantitative versus qualitative separates the doers from the talkers.

If our process makes one universal change across the organizations with which we work, it is moving from qualitative discussion and goal setting to quantitative objective setting and performance measurement.

Setting expectations clearly and unambiguously using quantitative measures very quickly separates the doers from the talkers. I'm always amused when I see someone drummed out of an organization because they lack executive stature. These are the pompous talkers who when measured quantitatively continuously come up empty. At long last, the doers who kept things afloat, in spite of the talkers, finally begin to be recognized for what they contribute.

The next time you're in a meeting, listen to the people who talk qualitatively (in generalities or without establishing metrics for performance), and observe those who talk quantitatively. You will have separated the talkers from the doers, without fail.

Responsibility must be matched by authority.

Responsibility must always be matched by authority if delegation is to work at all. When authority does not match responsibility, delegation fails. Without authority, the receiver of directions cannot make decisions without approval from above - thus, nothing has been delegated.

A reminder: effective delegation requires clearly defined and quantified expectations. However, once expectations are communicated unambiguously, authority must also be delegated to match the assigned responsibilities.

Organizations that are effective push decision-making down to the lowest possible level - that level at which the capability exists to make a high-quality decision. Customers are frequently lost simply because a company representative cannot authorize a relatively small refund which might save a client worth thousands of dollars in revenue each year.

And significantly, those companies who chose to empower their people are the best places to work. Think back over the companies for whom you have worked and you know this is true. A company that matches responsibility with authority offers the best environment - and the biggest bonuses!

Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at lvalant@valantco.com or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit www.valantco.com.

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