One of the top challenges found in entrepreneurial companies is a confusion over roles and responsibilities. The most recent high-profile example of this dysfunction’s effect is at Research in Motion, Ltd., (RIM) makers of the Blackberry smart phone.
RIM has been led by Co-CEO’s Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie. According to The Wall Street Journal, much of RIM’s decline is attributed to tension between the Balsillie and the Lazaridis factions. With competing visions, RIM has lacked a single coherent strategy to deal with Blackberry’s competitors. The ambiguity of who’s really the leader has resulted in divergence priorities; which really means no priority.
Even with non-CEO roles, it is common for confusion to exist around who is the #1 person accountable for each role. Gazelles International is worldwide, premiere coaching association composed of independent, professional business coaches. Over thousands of engagements Gazelles clients’ leadership teams have been asked to write down who they think is accountable for each of their company’s roles or “seats.”
Consistently, teams that complete this exercise identify
- more than one person in a seat
- a person in more than one seat
- seats in the company that should exist but are vacant
While leaders often believe everything is perfectly clear to them, the lesson is to be very explicit. I’d challenge you to have the exercise run at your company.
- Write down each role/key position. Also list roles that the company ought to have. For example, we now need a CFO, in addition to having a Controller and no one is in that role yet.
- Next, write down the name of the #1 person accountable for each role.
- Then compare results with each other. First look for ambiguity or downright misunderstanding. Where do you have than one person in a seat? Do some have the #1 responsibility for more than one seat? Does that seat justify its own person? Are there seats are empty?
A good place to start:
One company was so startled by the confusion uncovered after this exercise that we set about explicitly benchmarking each major role in the company. This process involves determine each seat’s key accountabilities and expectations. MORE ON JOB BENCHMARKING
Here’s another great test: Have you ever asked a management group to separately draw out their organization chart? I recently asked the two owners, the 51% CEO and the 49% COO, of a manufacturing firm to do this while their team was present. The two versions had no resemblance to each other. If the other seven people in the room had done a version, chances are we’d have had seven more differing org charts.
Why does this happen? As leaders we assume a lot. We think people know what we know, or that they’re able to divine it from the air we all breath together. Sometimes we are reluctant to say Sean is in charge of ‘x’ for fear of offending Kim who also contributes in the same arena and thinks it’s her domain.
Entrepreneurial growth company who struggle with people problems can go a long way toward resolving tension by making role responsibilities crystal clear.