I have shared with you through various episodes that I focus on being a fair leader. Part of being fair is assigning responsibility.
Stick with me on this for a second. I want each person who works for me and with me to know what their role is and what success looks like. I want to hire and have high performers. High performers need a bar because they are always going to strive to exceed it. If I don’t tell them where the bar is, they can’t be successful. I don’t want to lose my high performers due to being unfair and unclear.
But that isn’t the only way I need to be clear in order to keep my high performers, I also have to assign responsibility. I have observed throughout my career, leaders who haven’t done this, and have lost amazing talent. So let me give you an example and walk you through what I am talking about.
Let’s say there is an issue with our sales performance. I have 4 direct reports and all 4 contribute to sales in some capacity. We sit down as a team and we talk through what is impacting our sales performance. Through the discussion we discover a gap that Sally’s team should resolve. Instead of announcing that the responsibility falls to Sally, I ask the group “who is going to own it.”
Bob is a super high performer. He strives to help everyone and he is dedicated to the mission and the company. When there is an issue, Bob is the first to volunteer to help. Because I asked who would own it, Bob volunteers.
In that moment, I set Bob up to fail. The responsibility to fix an issue Sally’s team owns can’t fall to Bob. First, Sally is literally being paid to run that part of the business. The fact that she didn’t step up to own that piece is, quite honestly, why she would no longer be on my team. However, the fact that Bob has the drive and the desire, doesn’t mean that he can successfully win in this instance.
He can come up with great ideas, but his knowledge won’t be spot on because he doesn’t live in that part of the business each day. Additionally, he won’t have the resources to put the fixes in place. Sally’s team is the one that has the knowledge and the bandwidth to do the work, not his. However he doesn’t give Sally’s team direction. He can only try to accomplish the work through influence. He has no positional authority.
At the end of the day, no matter what Bob tries to do, the likelihood of him being successful is slim. When he fails, the entire team will be frustrated and disappointed in Bob. In turn, he will be less likely to volunteer to help and he will be less committed to supporting initiatives in the future.
I have damaged Bob’s high performing nature.
I have also allowed the entire team to be frustrated with Bob for trying to be a problem solver. When in reality, the entire team should be frustrated with Sally. She’s the one who should have stepped up and owned that piece of the business. Furthermore, they should be frustrated with me as their leader for not assigning responsibility.
If I had only started the meeting off as follows:
“OK, we have pinpointed the issue. Sally, this looks to fall to your team. I am going to ask you to follow up with your team and report back to the group tomorrow as to what your plan of action is and then we can determine how we support you.”
Do you see that? I didn’t let Sally off of the hook. I didn’t let Bob get into a situation he couldn’t control. And I effectively solved the problem by being fair, by assigning responsibility.
Do you allow people to volunteer for work or do you assign it based on responsibility? Think about Sally and Bob the next time you contemplate “volunteer ownership” as part of a resolution.