The accountability dilemma

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2016

My bosses have determined that I am responsible and accountable for everything in my area. It doesn’t really matter what my area is. Work is work whether it’s creative, constructive, coagulation, thinking, whatever. So, with this designation of responsibility and accountability comes a big task: decision-making! Yep, now I’m quested with making decisions related to my job.

The Problem with Decision-Making

The problem is that sometimes this responsibility decree works. But only sometimes. Smaller tasks that need quick answers are generally ok - generally. But I’m never really sure. And the problem gets worse as the company grows. Within larger reporting structures and large projects, that responsibility determination gets very complicated. Whereas smaller tasks (generally) turn out OK with me making decisions, the rest of my world, the big stuff, lives with many other people. Our world becomes complicated.

I’ve worked on projects where dozens of people have legitimate (meaning they are also quested with responsibility) decision-making powers. Their power may outrank mine, meaning I, in effect, have no power. The bigger the company, the bigger this issue of responsibility and decision-making power. I make decisions on the larger projects, true, but over time I begin to wonder why because someone above me is going to take over and make their own decisions. Then, above them, more power wrestling.

What Next?

As a friend of mine once proclaimed she had one foot over the offending line while raising her finger proudly. Sadly, I’m guessing many people feel that way. Why go through all the work when your decision is going to be crossed. For that matter, people under me probably feel the same way. (Although I’d like to doubt they do because I’m such a swell dude.)

What can we learn from this dilemma? Take care when granting responsibility. The lowest couple of characters are full of knowledge. They’re the ones who came up with the proposal/theory/show concept/whatever. They know what the thing looks like and, therefore, theoretically should have the best case for deciding answers to questions. They should be the ones to make the most influential decisions.

But, that doesn’t happen. Because they’re so used to being pushed around, the decision-making moves up the organizational chart, to fewer and fewer knowledgeable people. The people at the top of the chart, those who have the most decision-making power, know fractions of the things as those folks in the lower ranks.

Space Shuttles

This, I hear, is what happened with the space shuttle disaster. The scientists - those with the most knowledge of issues related to the shuttle tours - knew that the shuttle wasn’t safe and that the trip needed to be delayed. However, the decision-makers were those folks higher up the chain, those with ancillary knowledge of things related to safety. Because they got their info from 30 word presentation formats, they didn’t receive full knowledge of issues related to the shuttles. Thus, disaster. (I hear NASA has since changed their decision-making models. Hope so!) My job is important but my decisions are not necessarily deadly if something goes wrong. Besides, I’ve got enough safety experts to keep tabs on that stuff. But, what about police, fire, and NASA? If something goes wrong with their decision-making processes, they’re doomed. Thanks for listening.

“He who molds the public sentiment... makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to make.” Abraham Lincoln

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About The Author

Duane Dike
Duane Dike

Duane Dike is the manager of creative production for a large entertainment company in Southern California. He has a doctorate in management and organizational leadership and an MBA in management. He is a popular guest speaker for education and management groups on subjects related to innovation, leadership and thinking.