In the delightful, classic movie A Princess Bride, the character Inigo Montoya famously responds to his cohort’s repeated questionable use of the word “inconceivable”:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think means.”
In many organizations, the same thing applies to our understanding of the words authority and responsibility.
Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, taught that “standards should not be forced down from above, but rather set by the production workers themselves.”
Just saying that makes some leaders cringe. Classic management theory teaches that authority and responsibility are intertwined and should be delegated accordingly.
The theory is that a properly trained leader with authority and responsibility for a particular function should be able to perform it and meet expectations. As we have all experienced, sometimes that happens, but it often does not. Why?
- Authority requires the leader to make the plan and explain any performance variances to back to his or her boss. The assumption of authority is that a good plan properly implemented will produce the desired results.
- Responsibility, however recognizes that planning and performance involve circular feedback to be successful. Well-managed responsibility finds the leader asking questions, such as:
- What do you (the frontline worker) think the problem is?
- What do you think the potential solutions (countermeasures) are?
- What countermeasures do you think we should select?
- Who must do what, when, and where to test the countermeasures?
- Well-managed responsibility assumes that all plans are experiments and can only be evaluated through scientific methods, starting with Plan-Do- Check-Act, or PDCA.
Developing Relationships With Frontline Resources
Authority and responsibility are two different things and the smart leader knows this. He or she, develops collaborative win-win relationships with the frontline resources, over whom they have authority, to make sure that the accountability, and therefore the responsibility, are shared.
This is the beginning of associate engagement, which increases proportionately to how well associates are being treated by a leader.
In complicated work environments, this leader-to- frontline exchange is particularly important. Leaders who rotate frequently, with weak process knowledge but lots of authority, can be quite unaware of what is actually affecting performance positively or negatively. The deeper the process knowledge and collaborative rapport with the frontline associates, the better the results. As Dr. Deming stated, “If the process is right, the results will be right”.
Effective strategy deployment recognizes that the detailed process knowledge, and therefore the best collaborative responsibility, exists with frontline associates, not executives. The role of leaders as stewards of the strategic plan and overall organization performance is to cultivate a culture of safety and collaboration, in order to get every member of the organization being productive and fulfilled.
As the chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho, said: “Go see, ask why, show respect.”
Learn more about how the correct organizational understanding of authority and responsibility empower associates, managers and executives to collaborate at peak production all the time in these online courses presented by the Strategy Deployment Institute.