Saturday, February 25, 2012

Leadership Series - Part VIII - Lines of Accountability

Lines of accountability.  That sounds ominous. What the heck is it? Well, organizations might have executives, directors, managers, supervisors, chiefs, assistants, executive assistants, CEOs, CFOs, CEs, deputies, assistant deputies, employees, staff, etc. Depending on the size of the organization, there may be divisions, sections, departments, directorates, branches, etc. Get it? Anybody need a program to tell the players?

Well, believe it or not there is a reason for all that. It is to establish lines of accountability or various layers of responsibility so that accountability can be assigned to each one. And there are usually maps available called Organization Charts. They lay out who reports to whom and within which area of the organization. So the work gets done by everyone having access to and talking to everyone else, right?

Well, yes...and no. The work gets done by talking to your coworkers in other areas of the organization. There is nothing wrong with communication across the organization and, in fact, it should be encouraged. But the decisions get made by the appropriate layers within the organization.

Let's say you are in the Finance Division working on the budget and you need some clarification on a line item from another branch. There is nothing wrong with sending an email, or heaven forbid, picking up the phone and calling or even speaking face to face with a counterpart in the other branch to get some clarification. That gives you the ammunition you need to discuss it with your boss. Your counterpart will love you for involving him or her in the process and for representing them. But you don't go running to your counterpart's boss to discuss the situation for a few reasons.
  • It makes your boss look bad because it appears he or she has no control over the staff.
  • It makes your counterpart look bad because you are bypassing him/her and going above their head.
  • It leaves your boss blind because he/she was not involved in the discussion. You think your boss will be upset? You bet your britches!
By the same token, if you are the one in a position of authority you don't go below your direct reports to discuss issues related to work with their subordinates. It undermines your direct reports.

Anyone who is a parent will have been in a situation where your little Johnny has had a run-in with the neighbour's kid. You wouldn't immediately go running to the neighbour's kid to find out what is going on.  Nor would you talk to the kid's parents first. You would talk to your own kid to get the facts before doing anything else. It is common sense and no different in business.

Lines of accountability are in place for a reason to keep chaos from erupting in the workplace. The lines should be respected.

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