Understand who does what.
January 2023, Vol. 12 No. 1

Clear roles and responsibilities — that is, everyone knows what everyone is supposed to do and get done — represent a critical component of any high-functioning organization.

Today's newsletter explains why this is so and offers suggestions for implementing this in your business.
Please reply with your thoughts and comments.
Charlie Goodrich
Founder and Principal
Goodrich & Associates
In this issue…
Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Heard on the Street
About Us
Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities
What should you do in an organization and what should others do?  The answer is something called roles and responsibilities, a clear understanding of which — throughout the business — is one of the keys to a high-functioning organization. But what, exactly, does it mean?

There are two dimensions to roles and responsibilities: horizontal and vertical. 

  • Horizontal is all about function. At its most basic, that includes sales, marketing, operations, finance and accounting, etc. 

  • Vertical refers to roles and responsibilities within a given function. From the bottom up, that may include front-line workers, supervisors, managers, and a function head.

How does the answer to who does what get delineated? 

Fortunately, and while there is no shortage of theories of organization design, most of these can be skipped in favor of a simpler, more practical approach: Think of the organizational structure in terms of who owns which processes and who does which tasks.  

With the exception of those at the very top of an organization or function, two simple guidelines apply in making roles and responsibilities work. The scope of the organization to be concerned with increases as you move higher up in the company, but the fundamentals remain the same:

  1. Stay in your lane — don’t do the work of those around you.
  2. Don’t do what you have delegated — push that work back down. 

Years ago, when I ran the finance and accounting for a region in the rent-a-car business, pushing work back down the organization was one of the first things I did. Work sneaks up the organization when people who work for you present problems without solutions. I quickly learned to say, “That is your problem, not mine.” (That is not to say that some coaching might have been in order.) 

Another way this happens is when people copy others on emails unnecessarily. Not only does that clog up the inbox, but it is often used as an excuse: “I copied you on the problem.” Back in the days of paper memos, I solved this dilemma by reading “the mail” only once every month or two. Everybody quickly learned that if something was important, they needed to call me. My assistant used colored paper to signify days and weeks of the mail pile, and while initially, the month-end pile was measured in feet, eventually, it was measured in inches. 

This practice of mine also helped the CEO ensure that important memos were read. Knowing my once-per-month mail-reading habit, whenever he sent a memo out that he thought was important, he would have his assistant call mine to make sure I read it. But she would also notify her peers across the country. Pretty soon, everyone else who needed to pay attention had read the memo too!

How then can leaders leverage roles and responsibilities to establish and maintain a high-functioning organization? Some suggestions…

Everybody in the organization needs to know what they do and what others do. 

The point is obvious, but nonetheless, often ignored. People can’t stay in their lane if they don’t know what their lane is. And people don’t know how to work across the organization if they don’t know who does what. So make sure that all of this is clearly laid out and communicated — not just assumed. The level of detail increases as you go further down the organization. 

Make sure the “what” is both clear and agreed upon. 

It is not enough for a person to understand what their roles and responsibilities are, they need to believe they can do it. If they don’t think they can then they probably can’t. 

So make sure they have the time and resources to get done whatever they are being asked to do and be confident they have the skills and experience needed to do “it.”

Implement “limits of authority.” 

This is a critical aspect of defining roles and responsibilities and results in the reduction of (usually bad) surprises and unnecessary involvement of higher-ups in decision making. But it requires more than just telling people what they are “responsible for” — it needs to be quantified.

For example, how large a sales contract can a salesperson/sales manager sign without higher approval? Think in terms of price levels, time commitment, and dollars. If people don’t know they have clear authority to do certain things, they will float “approval” up a level to be safe. That bogs down the higher-level approver with unnecessary work. As with my approach to memos, I ignored these requests, thereby avoiding “shadow” approvals of things I didn’t need to be involved with.

Another example. Early in my career, I was in the paperboard and packing industry. Our parent company (an oil company, of all things) implemented this type of formal limit on authorities. One of the big changes occurred at the general manager level and above: the limits were set by person, not position. That allowed the company to craft the limits based on ability and experience of the individual, with those new in the job having lower limits than those of the seasoned veterans.

Focus on what people are supposed to get done, not what they do.

I have talked about this before . People and positions manage processes and do tasks. But what they get done is create change. That is what keeps businesses alive and growing. When everybody knows what they are supposed to accomplish (or change), they don’t resist.

For example, I came into a company as interim COO to close its sale. Management had been secretive and told the employees nothing. Not surprisingly, the recently ousted CEO was telling employees selected snippets. One of the first things I did was let all the employees know that the company had committed to selling to a particular buyer and that we all needed to continue to run the company and maintain service levels until the sale closed. Everybody, save a few troublemakers, worked together to close the transaction.

Final Thoughts

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities need not be complicated — make sure everyone knows what everyone is supposed to do and get done. 

By communicating these guidelines clearly across all levels and functions of the organization, you will permit the smooth and consistent functioning of the business.
Please share with your colleagues:
Heard on the Street
Most of us have heard about “blockbusting” but may not know much about it and the market factors that encouraged it. 

To learn more, read this short synopsis by Katherine Bennett, Daniel Hartley, and Jonathan Rose, all researchers with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
About Us
Goodrich & Associates is a management consulting firm. We specialize in restructuring and insolvency problems. Our Founder and Principal, Charlie Goodrich, holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Virginia, and has over 30 years' experience in this area.

To ensure that you continue to receive emails from us, please add
[email protected] to your address book today.

Goodrich & Associates respects your privacy.
We do not sell, rent, or share your information with anybody.

Copyright © 2023 Goodrich & Associates LLC. All rights reserved.

For more on Goodrich & Associates and the services we offer, click here .

Newsletter developed by Blue Penguin Development
Goodrich & Associates