Resilient organizations and the geography of responsibility

In our consulting work as well as in our system worx institute in Munich were we train leaders and consultants or coaches we strongly work with an enriched concept of responsibility in organizations. We owe the foundation of this concept the „ISB“ (= Institute of Systemic Consulting in Wiesloch) and broadened the concept for further use especially in organizational development projects. This experience comes from projects in large, global corporations as well as medium sized companies that try to be part of the globalization by being integrated in an external value network. First of all, we still determine different aspects and perspective of responsibility, like…

We differenciate in the typical use of the model parts of responsibility that are typically attributed to the person who is responsible:

Ability: Is someone able to fulfill the task? Does he or she combine enough knowledge about one’s role, about the context in which he or she needs to operate and how does this fit to him or her as a person with a specific skillset and the mental and spiritual setup of a person?

Motivation: How does someone feel driven or motivated for fulfilling tasks and living a certain role? Does he or she really want to move forward?

In addition we use two perspectives on the organisation’s side:

Authorization: How is someone authorized to move certain things forward? Is the mandate clear and do others in the responsibility system acknowledge the person in the role to reach for certain targets. Authorization also describes the frame of one’s own frame of decision power.

Expectation: What outcome, which results are expected in what time frame, in order to fulfill the organization’s needs for coordinated effort to succeed.

This basic model is easy to apply in any given situation by leaders in organizing the shared responsibility of their leaders in different levels of hierarchy in the organization.
And I want to point out a couple of additional aspects in this blog article, that are of particular interest in these days, were tremendous change activities in insecure environments take place and seem to produce many unwanted effects.

Expertise (vs. experience): „Did you do a project like this before?“ is an often asked question by first time customers who want to manage the risk of taking in an external consultant. I then might answer from time to time: „If you ever hire someone with that exact kind of project experience, you  run into the risk of also hiring the person’s mistakes. I offer you more my expertise in handling many types of change situations and my ability of carefully choosing interventions and designing events to make changes visible. If you ever run into someone who claims to have the perfect solution to your problem and already solved it at least once, this might be either like winning the lottery or just a false promise.“ The more you rely on the promise of long experience, you also decide to buy all the old mistakes while expertise is a broad skillset combined with a strong learning attitude of someone. Of course I learn in every change project! But it’s part of my expertise and mandatory in my field of change management and nothing that only adds up after a couple of years and counts to your seniority. In that way actually very many customers make a mistake in devalueing the expertise of the young generation. They are not blinded by years of experience and bring up to date scientific knowhow which they are typically are not allowed to use in „real life projects“ as this is often labeled as „too academic“. Big mistake in underestimating their expertise.
This by the way is an additional useful perspective on the person’s side.

Authority
This perspective is different from authorization but has some overlap. It is no question that in today’s organizational life you find many good as well as totally overengineered versions to commit targets and coordinated goals throughout the organization. BUT, sometimes people grab decision power because they just can. And the distribution of authority especially in times of change is very important to observe AND to manage, especially if it differs from authorization.

Conclusion

Why are the two additional concepts of expertise and authority so important? It makes a big difference in managing change were authority and expertise are located. Typically we see that authority swings back to the center of the organization (or more to the top) while expertise stays for out, typically at the customer interface. In doing so, either organizational dialogue is very important to make sure that still authority and expertise are well connected. Still decision processes will be slow and decision quality is at stake. A more structural intervention will be to give authority back towards were the expertise is located and give as much power to decentral functions as possible. What else has top management to do in times of radical change? Well, there are very many issues to coordinate and to support. But typically these too functions are regarded as inferior. Often it seems that top management only does a good job if they take drastic, visible measures instead of carefully designing and adjusting their system to new market situations. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying, you should not take drastic measures. But more in a coordinated way and always by consulting with those who are affected by it.

So, hopefully I could inspire you with these thoughts. I owe them my customers, my work with Bernd Schmid and my colleagues at the ISC and the system worx institute as well as Karl Weick and his excellent book Managing the Unexpected which I strongly recommend reading:
Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty

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