If you haven’t read the book American Turnaround by Ed Whitacre, you are missing one of the great reads of the last few years in business books. It is absolutely brilliant. He talks over and over about the need to establish clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability.
Often times, these three things are used interchangeably, but make no mistake there is a clear distinction between them. But in today’s business world, these are all being threatened with matrix organizational structures. These are evil, and they are part of a larger plot to kill productivity, efficiency, and profitability.
You will undoubtedly encounter these structures throughout your career. They will be sold to you as a necessary evil. People will tell you that the matrix is great when developing expertise within a certain discipline. These people will tell you that matrix allows organizations to grow rapidly and effectively. Do not be upset with these people, for they know not the damage that matrix is capable of. As a leader your job is to either eliminate the matrix, or get really good at navigating through it.
We will explore how to navigate or eliminate the matrix in future posts, but for now let’s take a look at the distinction between the three principles that Ed Whitacre is constantly preaching:
Authority. When you give a leader authority over a business line this means that you entrust his or her ability to make sound business decisions.
Responsibility. Along with great authority, comes great responsibility. A leader must be able to make the necessary business decisions within their area of responsibility. This means that if they are responsible for productivity, turnover, and labor costs then by all means they must be given responsibility to hire, develop, and terminate the employees within that area.
Accountability. Once a leader has been entrusted with authority, and given responsibility for business decisions, then they can and should be held accountable for the decisions they make.
The last part is critical. How can you hold a leader accountable for business decisions made by some other department? How can you hold them accountable for volume growth if they were not responsible for sales and marketing? How can you hold their feet to the fire over turnover rate if they don’t have the authority to hire, fire, and determine the pay rate of the teams they lead? The answer is simple – you can’t.
The matrix organization is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and one of my passions is to find ways to eliminate wherever possible (unfortunately this is easier said than done) and instead establish clear lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability. This is not rocket science. Just sound business principles that have worked for hundreds of years and Ed Whitacre.
My name is Mark Behl. My passion is leadership. I share ideas, not lectures. If you would like to share an idea with me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you come back for future posts.