With all the talk these days of teams, consensus, and inclusiveness, you often wonder if the aged question of “Who is responsible around here?” has been retired into the annals of business history.
The thing I enjoy most about business is being part of an organization that actually wants to get something done, coupled with the realization that if you don’t make progress, your boss is going to hold you responsible for the results, and there will be implications for you personally.
On the other hand, it is amazing how, over time, businesses will get things all fouled up. They will hire too many people, create amazingly complex bureaucracies, overdose on committees, task forces, and teams, and then wake up some day and realize just how unproductive and far behind their competition they really are. Everyone is incredibly busy; going to meetings, dealing with huge e-mail loads, etc. but nothing of significance is happening.
Recently I was reading an interview of Herb Kelleher, the former lawyer who famously created the business model for Southwest Airlines on the back of a (cocktail) napkin and then stuck around to build it into a huge corporation that is consistently on Fortune Magazine’s list of most admired companies. The most valuable insights in that interview for me were Kelleher’s views that business success is based on the following:
1.) Keep it Simple: The organizational design should be very simple. Matrix management, vague line/staff responsibilities, task forces, consensus decision making, and all the other complicating features you often see emerge in organizations, need to be avoided.
2.) Clear Responsibilities: With each job, there should be clear tasks the individual is expected to achieve, coupled with appropriate measures of success. Importantly, the individual should have the authority and responsibility to make the necessary decisions that enable them to do their job.
Chain-smoking, Wild Turkey-drinking Herb Kelleher was always clear about how he ran Southwest, often saying: “Well, the people did it. I just stayed out of their way.” When you define things as clearly and simply as he did, you can see how that is possible.