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Delegation: responsibility & accountability

By Randal Godden

Over the years many management fads come and go such as Managing by Objectives, Total Quality Management, Re-engineering and the classic Plan, Organize, Staff, Develop and Control. However one of the key attributes of good leaders and managers which is still paramount is creating a culture of appropriate Delegation, Responsibility and Accountability for their organization and leading by example.

Successful managers take responsibility for results, delegate appropriately and embrace accountability.

In working with may organizations in different countries and different industries, one of the key differentiating characteristics of successful organizations and their managers is the ability to take responsibility for results, delegate appropriately and embrace accountability. The three are closely interwoven but lets look at the individual elements before weaving them together.

As our managerial responsibilities grow, it is essential that we develop others by delegating responsibility.

The art of delegation fundamentally is the pre-cursor to management development. As our managerial responsibilities grow and develop it is essential that we develop others by delegating responsibility for an increasingly complex range of challenges which are effectively managed.

There is a fine line between delegation and abdication where the assignment is given but without adequate follow up, guidelines etc.

Key elements to successful delegation.

There are nine key elements to successful delegation

1. Agree roles and outcomes


Ensure that both parties understand EXACTLY what has been delegated and the outcomes expected.

2. One person responsible & accountable.

There must be only one responsible person who is held accountable for each specific outcome. Dual accountability is no accountability at all.

3. Delegate authority and provide tools.

Delegate the necessary authority and provide the necessary tools to enable success.

4. Agree on a feedback & early warning s ystem.

Agree on appropriate reporting / feedback system which effectively monitors progress and provides an early warning system.

5. Agree target dates for milestones.

Assign / Agree target dates and milestones for specific accomplishments and incorporate these in the reporting system.

6. Let go the How of doing the job.

Give the responsibility manager as much freedom as possible – endeavor to focus on desired outcomes rather than prescribed methods.

7. Make the role exciting and motivational

Create enthusiasm and excitement with assignments so that they are both challenging and motivational.

8. Match the delegated role to the person's capability.

Ensure that delegated assignments match the manager's capability. This includes having the knowledge, experience, ability and aptitude and personality needed to succeed in that role. Ensure that the feedback system, and the milestones and target dates are appropriate for the person you are delegating to.

9. Communicate the new role and outcome to those who may be affected.

Create feedback so that everybody involved understand the expected outcome.

Delegating is not abdicating.

One of my previous mentors the late Lucien Levy of PGSI described delegation as being connected to each manager by a piece of string. The length of each piece is different and our delegation task is to let the string out until it is loose and then pull it back so that it is taut but not tight. A simple philosophy but brilliant in concept.

Delegating means giving and accepting responsibility.

My colleague in the US, Dr Gerry Faust, talks about Responsibility from two perspectives :-

  1. Responsibility to our families, our boss, our business, our community, ourselves, our society etc
  2. We are responsible for our actions, words, deeds, use of our talents etc.

All of us have a choice as to the level of responsibility we adopt in both spheres.

Responsible people and managers take responsibility for agreed results and outcomes.
In the responsibility “to” arena, we can play a passive role or we can take responsibility to make a difference. Some classic examples from a business context – Employee A works Nine to Five, does what is asked, complies obediently but doesn’t push. On the other hand Employee B arrives at work ready to contribute, pushes to achieve results, works with others to ensure goals are being met and involves people so they understand. Which employee would you prefer ?

Responsible people and managers take responsibility for agreed results and outcomes. They are not swayed by excuses, just focused ways and means to achieve the desired result.

excusesIn Australia I ran a chain of 200 branches with individual managers in each store. It was always evident that in spite of all the physical elements (location, foot traffic, income spread etc) it was not always the BEST physical locations which were the most successful.

The key ingredient was the manager and his or her propensity to overcome adversity, not consider excuses but focus on how to achieve the results.

In short responsibility people / managers are more successful in business and in life.

Accountability means staying accountable for results.

While responsibility tends to be a personal phenomenon, Accountability is more an organizational phenomenon. It occurs when assignments are delegated from one person to another and the responsible manager is held accountable for the results even though they may not directly control all the elements involved.

There is a fine line between doing it all yourself and dumping it on a subordinate.

Importantly Accountability is not just the prerogative of the delegated manager, it is also essential that the delegator is also Accountable and has not ABDICATED rather than delegated. Again it is a fine line between doing it all yourself and “dumping” it on a subordinate.

Recognition and managing consequences is a key element of accountability.

Effective delegators follow up, support, provide enthusiasm, and offer help rather that intrusion, they give praise rather criticism.On that latter point recognition is one of the key elements for successful motivation of people and still not widely understood. The average human being needs NINE elements of praise or recognition to ONE element of criticism to be in balance. Otherwise they believe they are constantly being criticized, chided etc.

Celebrate successful outcomes and take appropriate action for lack of success.

One other key element of Accountability is the consequences arising from the success or otherwise of the assignment. Where possible I like to appropriately celebrate successful outcomes and take appropriate action for non performance or lack of success. Celebrations can be large or small, depending on the assignment and / or outcome but crucial from my perspective that all successful outcomes are recognized, as distinct from rewarded – it is the most powerful motivation !

Strangely it is the consequences for non performance or unsuccessful outcomes which many managers find the most difficult to implement. It need not extend to dismissal but managers must understand that even if it is only an expression of disappointment, that the matter will be addressed and not left “HANGING”

Management is about enabling people to achieve successful agreed outcomes.

In conclusion, there are many important factors in running a successful business or organization including leadership, planning, communication, motivating, to mention but a few.

However management in its broadest context is essential to success and management is about enabling people to achieve successful agreed outcomes.

The key ingredient which makes highly competent and successful managers is continuous and effective delegation, responsibility and accountability, as a whole both for the organization and in their own managerial arena.

Randal Godden

Randal Godden is an Ex-CFO and CEO of a company involved in construction, wholesale and retail. The company employed 3000 people and had 200 branches.

In his career he has been a director of every function of the company including financial, sales, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, HR and IT.

He now works as a mentor to CEO's and functional heads. Read his profile and other articles.

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