Why knowing who does what makes all the difference

When everyone is accountable, it really means no one is

I wish I had a dollar for every story I’ve heard about vague responsibilities causing poor company performance.

When I hear of an underperforming region, product, division or business process, I first ask, “Who owns this?” If there’s no clear answer, that’s usually the first place to begin in correcting the situation.

Although I’m skeptical of the “no boss” environments touted by many but with few transferable examples, I’m not arguing for hierarchy — just clarity around who “owns” what.

Sometimes the problem is on a grand scale where functional heads, often scattered worldwide, have supplanted P&L owners. Do you always need to have a geographic, customer-specific or product-specific P&L to succeed? No. Can multiple people feel a sense of responsibility for the same thing? Yes! Is there a greater chance for success if you can identify who’s responsible for the success or failure of certain pieces of the business? In my experience, absolutely!

Imagine a football team in which there are no defined positions. Envision a military unit with no rank. How about that great restaurant you go to? Do you think the chef and dishwasher rotate responsibilities? The amazing orchestras I’ve heard had violinists playing the score assigned to the violins, not the one assigned to the drummer. There’s a definitive answer to the questions “Who blocks that guy?” “Which targets do we strike?” “Does the beurre blanc sauce go on the duck or the chicken?” “Is this note played by a tuba or a trumpet?”

When you can’t answer the questions “Who owns this revenue line?” or “Who ensures that the sales team is trained?” or “Who makes sure that new product development happens according to schedule?” or “Who guarantees that the 10-K is filed on time?” you may be getting by, but you’re risking failure.

Call me “old school,” but when everyone is accountable, it really means that no one is accountable.

The garbage cans at my house didn’t get to the street last night. I wonder why not?

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives