It was #Gilbfest in London last week, and amongst other things the week provided a rich lode to mine for blog posts, including this one. The proximate trigger for this post was a discussion during a short presentation by Rolf Goetz (@rolfgoetz) concerning a better way to describe roles and responsibilities in a development organisation. The discussion touched on the RACI matrix, with most folks debating the relative merits of RACI vs Rolf’s suggested improvements, along with some number of other alternatives for clarifying roles and responsibilities seen “in the wild”.
Despite a few dissenting murmurs from the Agile end of the room, what was NOT discussed was the whole issue of whether making folks “responsible” for certain kinds of decision was in fact a good idea at all.
It’s one of the many hallmarks of the Analytic mindset – more specifically, of the Theory X worldview – that someone should “be responsible” for things. In this worldview, ideally, every possible decision should have a “responsible person”. Implicit in this worldview is the assumption that without such “responsible parties”, decisions will be overlooked, and important issues might “fall through the gaps”, disrupting the operation of the organisation and the quality of service to customers. Never mind that in most organisations having this worldview – and with e.g. their corresponding RACI matrices well-defined – operations of the organisation ARE regularly disrupted and the quality of service to customers is typically poor.
“If everyone is responsible then no one is.”
Most of these Analytic organisations unconsciously attempt to substitute “accountability” – aka responsibility – for the commitment they regard as both unreliable and unlikely to be forthcoming from their staff.
Instead of working on the root cause, – the lack of engagement and commitment in their staff – such organisations rely on the idea of the “Single Wringable Neck” or “One Throat to Choke”, expecting (with little supporting and much contrary evidence) that “accountability” – aka the blame game – will bring about the desired effect (a smooth-running, well-oiled machine of an organisation).
Roger Martin describes all this, and more, in his great book “The Responsibility Virus”. He also describes how the Single Wringable Neck idea drives alienation, siloism and other organisational dysfunctions.
Commitment Trumps Responsibility
Actually what we should be looking for most often is not responsibility, but commitment. Commitment to keeping things running smoothly. Commitment to giving the customer a great experience. Commitment to excellence.
Deming’s 14 Points have some advice here too:
- Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
- Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
- a) Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership
b) Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
- working as a team
- leadership instead of management (by numbers) – and see also “Fellowship“
- elimination of fear
- work to raise the level of commitment and engagement of staff to the point where they can both recognise when some action or decision is required, and are willing to step in and take that action or decision – or at least, act on the recognition and get other involved in taking the necessary action or decision jointly.
- Improve the way the work works (“the system”) to the point where the system takes care of the common, routine decisions more or less automatically, leaving humans the space and time to focus their time, attention and special skills on dealing with the wide variety of uncommon, one-off and unusual actions and decisions that inevitably arise every day in the course of running an organisation.
The Responsibility Virus ~ Roger Martin
The Fallacy of “One Throat to Choke” ~ Post on Mike Cohn’s blog
In Search of Excellence ~ Tom Peters
A Twist of the Wrist – Keith Code – On Cognitive Easement in motorcycle racing