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Who’s In Charge Here Anyway?

How many times has this happened in your organization?

A sudden change in your market (or as often happens these days, a sudden change in the world outside your industry) dictates a major mid-course correction to the strategic plan. So you gather the management team, strategize the issue, and end the meeting with several decisions that will take the plan in a new direction.

A month later, you gather the team to review progress on the new direction and nothing much has happened. As you go around the table, you begin to hear things like, “Well, that’s more of a marketing issue, so I thought Sally was in charge of that one.” Or, “I never got the go-ahead from Dustin, so I couldn’t order the parts to begin production.” Or, “I only got approval from a couple of people. I couldn’t possibly move ahead without everyone on board.”

Sound familiar?

Nothing frustrates leaders more than lack of alignment around key strategic initiatives. And nothing impedes a plan more than important decisions that don’t get implemented. These plan killers occur for many reasons. One of the most common is the failure to clarify who has responsibility when changes get made to the plan.

In today’s chaotic markets, strategic plans frequently get knocked off course. Too often, teams spend so much time figuring out what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when it needs to be done, that they neglect to assign specific responsibility for making sure it gets done. When people don’t have clarity around who’s in charge on a particular action item, and what excellence really looks like when that action is taken, they unconsciously default to, “It isn’t me, so it must be someone else.”

To avoid this situation, I recommend a process called “responsibility charting,” a simple tool that helps to reduce ambiguity, wasted energy, and discord between individuals or groups, and ensures that all actions get implemented in a timely manner. The process was originally created by Edgar Schein and over the years it has been modified to fit today’s challenges.

Here’s how it works.

When significant changes to the plan are indicated, the team formulates a list of actions, decisions, or activities and records the list on the left-hand side of the responsibility chart. The team then identifies the people involved in each action or decision and lists those individuals on the right-hand side of the chart. These can include people directly involved in a decision, supervisors and managers, project teams, internal resources, and people outside the organization.

For each decision or activity, assign one or more of the following letters to each person based on their required behavior in regard to the particular action or decision:

  • R – Has responsibility for a particular action AND the authority
  • A – Must approve; has power to veto the action
  • S – Must support/provide resources for the action (but not necessarily agree)
  • I – Has input into the action but cannot veto
  • U – Must update regularly on the action

The team must first reach agreement on where responsibility for the action or decision resides. If they can’t agree, the team should break the problem into parts, move the responsibility up one level in the organization, or move the decision about the location of the responsibility up one level.

Once responsibility has been appropriately placed, the team assigns the other letters, keeping the following in mind:

  • No box can contain more than one letter
  • No more than one “R” can exist for an activity
  • Avoid assigning too many “A’s”, as it can lead to difficulty in obtaining a decision

Suppose a company needs to rebrand a product line. Their marketing team responsibility chart might look like this:






The benefit of responsibility charting lies not only in the end product but also in the new understanding and appreciation of people’s roles and required behavior that grows out of the charting process. Not only do people fully understand their individual roles and responsibilities, they also understand everyone else’s. There’s no ambiguity, no second-guessing, and no passing the buck.

Never again will you have to hear, “Gee, I thought Bob was supposed to handle that one.”

Getting clear on where you are going AND who needs to do what to get there is critical to winning in today’s world!

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