Who’s In Charge Here?

I wish that I had a dollar for every story that I have heard of lack of clarity around responsibility causing poor company performance.

When I hear of a poor performing region, product, division, or business process I always start by asking, “Who owns this?” If there is no clear answer, that—in and of itself—is usually the first place to start in correcting the situation.

While I am very skeptical of the “no boss” environments being touted, it is not hierarchy that I am arguing for, just clarity around who “owns” what.

Sometimes the problem is on a grand scale where functional heads—often scattered around the globe—have supplanted P&L owners. Do you always have 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 point to specific pieces of the business and identify who is responsible for the success or failure of that identifiable entity? In my experience, absolutely!

Imagine a football team where there are no defined positions. Imagine a military unit with no rank. How about that great restaurant you go to. Do you think that the chef and dishwasher rotate responsibilities? The great orchestras that I have heard had violinists playing the score assigned to the violins, not the one assigned to the drummer. There is 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 is accountable for ensuring that the sales team is trained?” or “Who ensures that new product development is happening according to schedule?” or “Who ensures that the 10-K is filed on time?” you may be getting by, but you’re at risk of 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 how that happened?