Psychology of Performance – 16 Accountability and Authority

In our consulting through BizPsych (www.BizPsych.com), organizations ask us to assess and intervene with vertical relationship conflicts as well as  cross-departmental conflicts on a regular basis. These conflicts are often rooted in unclear accountability and authority for the C-level, vice-presidents, managers, supervisors and front line producers. This creates significant performance and execution problems throughout the organization.

Elliot Jacques, in his numerous publications defined accountability and authority for management at all levels. Accountability and authority establishes where people stand with each other.  They determine who is able to say what to whom, and who under given circumstances must say what to whom.  They establish who can tell who to do what, especially, in the managerial hierarchy, if one person is being held accountable for what another person does or for the results of what the other person does.

Accountability and authority define the behaviors that are appropriate and necessary in the vertical relationships between managers and their subordinates, and in the horizontal, cross-functional relationships between people.  The vertical relationships are the means by which the work that needs to get done is assigned, resourced, and evaluated; cross-functional relationships are the means by which the flow of work across functions gets processed and improved through time.

He noted that it is absolutely imperative that organizational leaders be clear not only about their own decision-making accountability, but they must also make it equally clear for each and every manager below them in the organization.  All of these managers must also meet regularly in two-way discussions about major issues with their immediate subordinates, in order to get their help in making decisions for which the manager alone must be accountable.  In discussions between managers and subordinates, it is always the manager that is ultimately accountable for decisions.  Even when the subordinate has more knowledge than his or her manager on a given matter and tells the manager what he or she thinks should be done; if the manager accepts the subordinate’s view then it becomes the manager’s decision. There will be times in an organization’s growth or life span when a manager may have multiple roles/levels that they are accountable for. The manager may be a manager, a supervisor and a front line producer on a given day if the department or work group is small enough or does not have the resources to accommodate separate levels and roles. This is a situation referred to as “down in the weeds”, “wearing many hats”, or “collapsed strata (time span).” This is not ideal; however, at times it may be the best we can do.

How does your organization define accountability and authority at each role? What impact has the clarity or lack of clarity had on your organizations effectiveness and performance?

Have a day filled with equanimity,

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.

CEO & Psychologist

Mines and Associates

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