"Who made this decision?!" Why accountability structures matter.

When business leaders design their workforce, the standard place to start is with tasks. Who will do what? And of course, that is important. However, determining tasks doesn’t necessarily determine who is accountable for the quality of their outcome or decision making when something out of the ordinary happens, or a problem arises.

I recently did a piece of work with an organisation that runs a facility where everyone needs to be able to do nearly every task. There are tens of employees that work at this site. The problem was not getting people to chip in. The problem was that no one other than the facility’s manager and his deputy had been determined to be accountable for the decision making and outcomes of any stream of work.

This meant an exhausting amount of ultimately unhappy chaos. They were called upon all day to make decisions on everything from OH&S to meal allocation to client management to cleaning. It was unsustainable, reactive and high risk as a strategy.

How to fix this? We broke down high-level task descriptors into streams of accountability and levels of responsibility. We documented essential decisions about running the facility and client care in a delegation matrix which meant that staff knew who to ask. One result was the person identified as the decision-maker was empowered to make decisions. Only the most complex decisions now reach the senior leaders, who were freed up to work on sensemaking, strategy, business development and growth.

There needs to be a framework of review and feedback underpinning this work to ensure expectations are clear and people know whether they are meeting them or not – an accountability process, if you will.

You don’t have to do this for every task in your business, but you should do it for categories of tasks. Clarity and accountability are hugely empowering. Combined, they allow staff efficacy over their work, a benchmark for understanding whether they have done a good job and a safety net when they need support. It speeds up decision making and frees up time for proactive rather than reactive action. And as an employer, it provides you with clarity around the people and skills that may need development when issues arise.