Who is Responsible?

Who is responsible? Me?

Who is responsible never seems to be a good question these days. Not least because it is often followed up by the words ‘this’ or ‘mess’ and hardly ever with ‘because this is brilliant’.

Or maybe that’s just the critical rather than nurturing parent in me that mentally adds on the extra bit. But in business ‘who is responsible’ is an increasingly big cultural question for organisations.

A Culture of Blame

We live in an age when individual responsibility is declining. We are all entitled to a PPI refund because it was mis-sold to us – obviously. The presumption is that the product, like so many others, was too complicated for us to understand. Or to question or not appropriate to our needs, because we relied on the person selling to us to assume we’d follow the herd and allow its addition to whatever the other product was we needed. The saying where ‘there is blame there is a claim’ and the culture of complaint in expectation of compensation is now rampant. Not did I check, question and decide.

In business a culture of sharing is beneficial. Any Company Director is responsible for the accuracy of the VAT returns and Company Accounts. But they often rely on Accounts to calculate them. Similarly Directors have a legal responsibility for Health and Safety, but it works much better if everyone is empowered to act to prevent issues.

In small companies, there is often a team expectation that all will help at peak times. We never want the Marketing Exec to be facebooking when Production needs a hand with packing or quality control. So the sharing of responsibility can be positive for business where each individual knows the need and their role.

A Culture of Shame

Joining an organisation, in a role for more than one month, means we get a job description with a title. That description typically shows responsibilities. At this point it seems very clear for what the individual is responsible and some gauge of seniority. We expect Directors to be senior to Managers and that whoever is the boss will ultimately have the answer to whatever question.

But titles can lie. A director does not mean they are a company director and could report to a Manager. The MD of a small business might have all the industry skills necessary to start the business, but none of the managerial skills that enable continued efficient growth. But s/he are ashamed to admit this as they fear losing face and power. And over time our early job description gains various additions and deletions as our role and expectations change, so responsibilities blur.

A culture of assumption soon becomes the culture of shame. Avoid shame by enabling individuals to say ‘I don’t know’ without judgement and empower them to be responsible to voice that uncertainty. And ask who is responsible as a genuinely open question. That honesty powers effective teams as each individual knows who to rely on for what and they are jointly responsible for the task.


Andrew Callard is responsible for these thoughts. They may not reflect the values of Aimed Business. But they probably do!