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In most organizations, it’s the CEO who is delegated specified accountabilities and authorities by the Board of Directors and it’s the CEO who is held to account for implementing and obtaining those objectives as detailed in the strategic plan. Nevertheless, they alone cannot complete all of the work and therefore, must delegate work down through and across the organization. For the CEO to be successful, however, there must be a system in place for delegating effectively and as a result, it’s critical he or she sets an organizational framework for accountabilities and authorities.

Accountability and Authority Must Cascade Down the Organization

The process starts when the CEO delegates accountability to a direct report, including accountability for certain deliverables, the authority to accomplish them, the required resources and timelines. The CEO then manages against this, expecting that the consolidated output of all of his or her direct reports will help to drive the success of the strategic plan implementation.

Each of the CEO’s direct reports is also an intervening manager who, within the context set by the CEO, must decide what work he or she can personally do and what must be delegated. The direct report manager translates and then delegates work in an appropriate way down to his or her direct report managers. This accountability and authority needs to be crystal clear and within the framework set by the manager’s manager all the way back up through the organization.

Accountability and authority cascade down through the organization, starting from the CEO (who is also working within context that has been set by the board).

When a Managerial Accountability Framework Does Not Exist: Poor Communication

What is the most prevalent symptom of a lack of a managerial accountability framework? Poor communication. In order to be effective in their work, managers need to be aware of the higher levels of decisions that are made in the organization that are going to impact their work. In most cases, only your manager understands your work and he or she is likely the only one who can effectively filter what you need to know to be successful.

The alternative is a situation where there is too much information from different areas of the organization so that it becomes challenging to clearly identify what may or may not be relevant. If managers do not have the information they need to do their work, they rarely say, “The managerial accountability framework in this organization is flawed.” What they do say is, “I’m not getting the information I need,” which is simply understood as poor communication.

Work That Flow Across the Organization

Work flows across an organization in much the same way it flows down through an organization and it’s important to recognize the role of the CEO in terms of setting the accountability and authority framework as well as the context for direct reports to understand the importance of the work they delegate. In the same way that context and boundaries are set for work that flows down the organization, context and boundaries must be clearly defined for work that flows across the organization.

In every organization, a tremendous amount of work moves horizontally in the organization. Rather than the Directors in Finance and Operations having to negotiate with each other how the work gets done, the CEO sets the context for his or her direct reports on the priorities of the work. In this way, when work is delegated by the Vice Presidents of Finance and Operations within their respective departments, do employees in those departments have a common understanding of their relationships with colleagues in the other department?

The CEO is the only position that can establish the accountability and authority systems that are implemented across the organization. For instance, if a new financial reporting system is put in place, consideration is always given to the impact on financial services resources. However, what about the impact on other parts of the organization? Will the required inputs into the new system have a negative impact on the time requirements of, for instance, Operations? What happens if a Director in Finance doesn’t feel he or she has the time to meet these new commitments? Has the CEO set the context for the Vice President of Finance and the Vice President of Operations so that they both understand in the same way, the relative importance of the work?

For work to successfully flow across the organization, the CEO needs to have a framework in place and needs to set the context and boundaries for work to flow across the organization as it is delegated. If the context is not consistently and clearly set down through the various departments in the organization, then chances are that work will not flow smoothly across the organization.

When Cross Functional Accountability Frameworks Do Not Exist: Silos

What is a symptom of a lack of cross-functional accountability frameworks? Silos. If managers do not understand their accountability and authority with respect to others in the organization – what can they rely on in order to get the work done that they need to do – then the tendency is there to hunker down and do the work for themselves. When this happens, the communication that goes across the organization breaks down and people start to think, “I don’t own it, I can’t control it, I guess I’ll just go about doing it on my own.” This mindset is dangerous and counterproductive to success in any organization as it results in duplicated work, rework and missed work.