February 16, 2010

Employee Relationships – What is Responsibility

Responsibility is fast becoming a lost art in the business worlds in which we exist today.

When managers take responsibility for creating valuable relationships with their people, there are many opportunities to be had.

But what is responsibility?

Whilst relationships between individuals requires attention on both sides, with managers and employees there is a drive more from the side most likely to benefit – and that is the management side in terms of the business value, whilst it is also in the interests of employees where there are benefits for them too (such as career progression and skills development, as examples).

It is really worth taking some time to understand what ‘accountability’ and responsibility’ are in this manager/employee context, so that a clear picture can be drawn to show what needs to be done.

There are two defining descriptions that need to be addressed here, ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’. Whilst these two words might seem to be very similar, there is a difference when managing employees is concerned.

Accountability is for someone – usually a manager in a business or organization – where ‘the buck stops’. As a manager you are the person ultimately ‘accountable’ for all sorts of required outcomes in your part of the organization.

Responsibility is one level lower, where as managers we delegate the ‘responsibility’ for an action to someone else, enabling them to be the person who delivers that part of an overall ‘accountability’.

We are ‘accountable’ for the delivery of something and we delegate parts of this to others who are ‘responsible’ for the activities they need to take to complete their part of the overall ‘something’.

We, as managers, take on accountabilities that the organization requires us to deliver to provide the returns that they, their stockholders and any other stakeholders want and need to be successful. We, in turn, break down these ‘accountabilities’ and let others in our teams take on ‘responsibilities’ that they can deliver to contribute into the whole.

Being responsible for actions is a big learning curve for your people to experience and sometimes they will need help with that. It can be a daunting prospect. It can also be misunderstood, where they don’t recognize that your expectation of them is real and finite. So they may need a nudge to comprehend what that means, especially to start with.

When we are building relationships, whilst we might be accountable for this overall (not least because it’s in our interest to do so), there are responsibilities that can be attributed to both sides to make the relationships start, continue and where appropriate, end effectively.

Understanding the difference between ‘accountable and ‘responsible’ is the first step for many managers in this position and one that they will need to be clear about at the earliest moment.

Filed under Blog, Building the Future, Developing Your People, Management Basics by Martin

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