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What are you accountable for?

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I love clear roles and responsibilities.

I bang on about them endlessly. To the point of driving some of the people I work with crazy.

What do I mean by clear? I mean written down. I mean completely unambiguous. Completely focussed. Like a laser beam. Sharp, accurate and to the point.

A Format

The format I usually prefer is a Role Purpose statement – just one (or possibly two) simple statements that sum up the role.

Like “Make money for the company”. “Make sure we have the information we need to manage the business”. “Find us new customers”. “Ensure we have the best team on the planet”.

It must be only one or two things – more and people can’t hold them in their minds. Too many goals creates confusion – internally.

And then a list of Responsibilities. No more than 7 or 8 (one of the few papers I remember from my first degree was on the “magic number 7”).

Things that support the Purpose, like “Create the processes we need to supply accurate and timely information”, “Recruit and manage a team”, “Work with the other directors to grow the business”, etc.

Why am I so obsessed with this?

Why am I so obsessed by these single sheets of paper (I usually suggest we add in a few KPIs for good luck)?

Because they are one of the best ways I know to create an opportunity for real accountability in a company. If the role description is clear, then holding people to account is easy. If it is wooly – well, then anything can happen, and usually does.

I am also obsessed by empowerment. I believe deeply that people should be given, and take, all the responsibility they need. I don’t believe it works for people to tell other people what to do – except in exceptional circumstances.

So, a clear role is a complement to this. It’s the Yin to the Yang.

In my view, everyone in a conscious business needs an individual, clear and unambiguous role description that describes their Role Purpose and Responsibilities. Make no mistake, these can’t be imposed from above. They need to be agreed – that is, taken on by each individual, and “owned”.

They shouldn’t overlap – or we reintroduce ambiguity. And they need to fit together as a set – so that everything really important gets done.

Without them no one can hold anyone to account, we fail to get the collective results we need as a team, and we lose our focus on our business imperatives. The things that keep our businesses alive.

WIIFM

And whose responsibility is it to ensure that everyone has these? Mine. Yours. Everybody’s. All of us that want great results from our companies.

What’s in it for me? How does it help me, or anyone else, to define my own responsibilities? Well, my life becomes simpler. I can focus. I am clear what I need to do. Maybe more importantly, I am clear what I don’t. Doing less is the key to a life of sanity.

And truly, being held to account is a good thing – not a bad thing. We sometimes think that accountability benefits the person doing the holding to account. But I think there is even more benefit to the person being held to account: we learn.

Feedback on what we do and how we do it is perhaps the most useful gift we can get from others in life.

I feel really annoyed with myself when I let people off the hook on this. But, sadly, I do. Note to self: clarify my role.

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Author: Pete Burden

Strategy, Leadership and Organisational Coach I am an experienced strategy, leadership and organisational coach. I work with the MDs of purpose-led businesses - people using the freedom, flexibility, and practicality of business to disrupt the world in positive ways.

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