Clarify Authority not Mandates
One of the most pressing concerns in the workplace is confusion over who does what. When this is unclear, turf battles erupt and onlookers can be paralyzed into inaction. Some will blame their confusion about accountabilities on the speed of change – although I have yet to see a job change or promotion happen overnight. It may be that the call for clarity is often met with continuous circular discussions. Eager to be empowering and non-directive tones, leaders use soft words like these; mandate, purpose, outcomes, and avoid the more concrete term “authority”. In groups the soft words are often Team Charter or Terms of Reference.
You know that writing in an active voice is powerful and better influences your reader. Similarly, it is helpful to use direct words to identify who does what. Specify authority levels and limits. Just as we do in financial matters when we set “signing authority”. This makes it easier for individuals and teams to know what they are to do. It saves time and permits moving from passive discussion to a more active generation of results.
If you would like to increase clarity around the work of an individual or a team, get agreement on the following areas of authority. Areas of
Who has the authority to?
- Assign tasks
- Decide on priority order of tasks
- Change or re-order the priority order of tasks
- Take on a new task (and thereby reshuffle priorities)
- Initiate a new task
- Drop an existing task
- Share information (with who)
- Explore (research) a new idea
- Dissect a current process or task
- Suggest a new idea (to who)
- Suggest a new process (to who)
- Solicit advice and input
- Ignore advice and input
- Spend money (how much)
- Save money
You may have specific areas in your business where you want to assign broader authority – in order to increase engagement or shared accountability. For example, who has the authority to report health and safety requirements, to make a sale, to satisfy an unhappy customer? Perhaps everyone does!
Try reading your job descriptions and team charters with an ear for action verbs: Do they clearly say what the person or team has the authority to do? If not, initiate the conversation about authority and clear the way for people to take action even in times of rapid change.