Most organizational communication issues are born of unclear decision rights. The clearer you can be about who is providing input to be considered and who is making decisions/providing direction to be followed, the less communication issues you’ll have.

True story. A new general manager told his direct reports that he wanted them to own their functional areas of responsibility, keeping him informed along the way.

After a few weeks the head of marketing came to him and said she was ready to inform him about what they were doing on the marketing front. Since so many people from marketing had done so much good work, she brought a large group to the meeting.

It went well. The general manager asked a bunch of questions and got more and more excited about what they were doing. The energy in the room was palpable. At the end of the meeting, the general manager closed by saying, “I love it. Go for it.” The team left energized and excited.

What had he done wrong?

Word of the success of the meeting spread like wildfire. Soon the heads of design and engineering, product supply, distribution, customer service, sales, finance and human resources each scheduled meetings to bring the general manager up to speed on what was going on in their groups.

The general manager’s diary completely filled up. The business ground to a halt. No one would move forward on anything until the general manager had been informed.

Figured out what he’d done wrong yet?

His mistake was saying “Go for it.” With those words, he took back ownership of marketing decisions, redefining “keep him informed” as “get his approval.”

What he should have said at the end of the marketing meeting was “I love it. What do you need me to do to help?” That would have kept ownership with the head of marketing.

RACI is an old, but useful tool to align vocabulary. Here is my best current thinking on definitions:

RACI definitions:

Approving Authority: Passes accountability on to someone else, retaining approval/decision rights.

Accountable: Overall ownership of results. Drives decisions. Ensures implementation.

Responsible: Does defined work (and signs off on their portion of the work).

Consulted: Provides input (that should be considered) and/or direction (that should be followed) – Two-way conversation.

Informed: Kept up-to-date – One-way communication.

Support – Assist in completing the work

 

Cascades down

 

  • Approving with the confidence to let others be accountable
  • Accountable with the confidence to be open to input
  • Responsible with the confidence to be open to help
  • Consulted with the confidence to help without getting credit
  • Informed with the confidence to keep out of the way

 

 

The Art of Delegation

RACI is closely linked to the art of delegation. Recall these six levels of delegation:

 

  1. Do well yourself
  2. Do yourself, but just well enough
  3. Delegate and supervise
  4. Delegate and ignore
  5. Do later
  6. Do never

 

If you choose level 3, be clear on the role you’re delegating to others and the type of supervision you expect to provide.

 

  • If you are the approving authority and you’re making them accountable, you may choose to be consulted to make sure they are operating within the agreed guidelines. Or you may choose merely to be informed.
  • If they are responsible for the work and you are retaining accountability, they will be on a shorter leash with more frequent contact with you for coordination and communication.

 

If you choose level 4, be clear on the mode, manner and frequency of the updates you want – if any.

 

Decision rights

Consider five different possibilities:

 

  1. I decide on my own.
  2. I decide with your input.
  3. We decide together.
  4. You decide with my input.
  5. You decide on your own.

 

If we both decide, we run the risk of no one deciding and things not happening. Separately, no one can’t learn and grow if they are making decisions without input.

That leaves us with someone deciding with someone else’s input as the way to make decisions. You can fix a lot of your communication issues by clarifying who is providing input to be considered and who is making decisions to be followed.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #741) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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