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Roles and Responsibilities is a swear word when managing people

The following piece is not out of a Management Textbook, but rather the result of the cumulative years of experience of a few consultants working with companies trying to improve their work practices

One of the most surprising and overlooked management practices is the work protocol of having Roles and Responsibilities (R&R). Many would feel this one is an outlier, but unless addressed this omission could wreck a perfect functioning company. You should be suspicious of your R&R when you start experiencing the following symptoms.

  • Work responsibilities falling through the cracks – “I thought you would do it and you thought I would do it”.

  • Duplication of work – Person completes the work just to discover that someone else has already done it.

  • Resources conflicts – Conflict about who is responsible for a specific task.

  • Inferior/sloppy work due to the worker believing it is not his/her responsibility to do it.

  • Incomplete RAM (Responsibility Assignment Matrix) in Project Management, since

  • the project leader cannot find who is responsible for what.

We can learn and borrow a lot from the Resources practices used in Project Management. Successful Project management is heavily dependent upon the successful assigning and execution of resources spread across the organization. We also learn from Project Management that if resources are not managed expertly and professionally the result is escalating costs and timelines

So, let’s borrow a few practices from Project Management (PM) and see how we could import this into normal management practices successfully.

  • In PM nothing takes place, and a project does not get started unless the Mandate Giver (Person or Department paying for the project) and Project Sponsor is identified. We should use the same practice in managing operations in our own companies, which would do no harm and would only be helpful.

  • Identify Roles and then Responsibilities. In a few cases you might have to identify the responsibilities first to give you a better indication which role should perform them.

It would be useful doing the following.

  • Make sure the Job Function and Role is aligned, if they are not you are going to have major difficulties with identifying responsibilities

  • Always good to have the job incumbent present, because at certain stages grey areas needs to be discussed and then assigned in the most logical place.

  • If incumbents want to negotiate certain responsibilities, then let that happen if it makes sense. Rather make sure that we do not have a gap/crack than worrying who should technically be responsible for it.

Client Success Story

A Global Service Integrator in the UK had difficulties getting their Service Staff to meet the service requests from their clients. The data or service the clients normally asked for was not in the Service Officer’s job description and they had to make an extraordinary effort to deliver the requested service through cross-functional colleagues.

We got the various parties together and presented the dilemma the service officers were experiencing. The difficulties mentioned was an eye-opener to many staff members. We used the clarification of roles and responsibilities matrix, which resulted in a few changes to “joint responsibility areas” of the appropriate parties.

This small change made an immediate difference and improved the morale of the service officers drastically.

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