In my September newsletter (sign up for it here), I write about the bottlenecks that occur when a manager delegates responsibility for a job without delegating the authority to actually get that job done. It occurs to me that this kind of mismatch between authority and responsibility creates bigger problems throughout the organization.
Low Responsibility, Low Authority: here’s the classic recipe for apathetic, demotivated workers. Customer service people who don’t have the power to solve problems. Assistants who don’t get one-on-one time with their execs. These are the people with glazed eyes waiting for the five o’clock bell to ring, who have no energy or desire to help improve the company.
High Authority, Low Responsibility: here’s the blueprint for installing a tyrant of minutiae. The person in finance who insists that you fill out your travel expense form in blue ink, not black – or for that matter, that you use their form, instead of your spreadsheet version of it that does the math for you. The person at the DMV counter who sends you to the back of the line because you forgot to put your middle initial on form 2976A/3. These people make life miserable for everyone and will never leave, because they’ve built a comfortable empire.
High Responsibility, Low Authority: this is the grey world of the frustrated strivers. Nurses who can’t make changes to procedures that would allow them to spend more time with patients. Product developers who are told to just make what the sales department demands. You can find these people polishing their resumes as they look for another job.
High Responsibility, High Authority: this is where you want your people to be. They have responsibility for a job, and the authority to accomplish it. These people are able to contribute to growth, improve performance, and move the organization forward.
Here’s the thing: the apathetic, the tyrants, and the frustrated—they could be anyone in the company. The engaged, committed workers are no better than the others. They’re just in jobs that allow them to exercise autonomy, achieve their goals, and strive for greatness.
Or, as David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer wrote back in 2006:
Most companies have it all wrong. They don’t have to motivate their employees. They have to stop demotivating them.