Divided Responsibility – Still Haunting Service Organizations

You would see it more often in manufacturing, but divided responsibility plaques service organizations too.  Typically, in manufacturing it would be seen in quality control efforts where management would declare high-quality products.  The management paradox is that more inspection predictably led to higher error rates.  When two or more individuals inspect the same product to “inspect quality in” it means no one is responsible.

When action items are delved out amongst participants of a meeting, often you will find two (or more) individuals being given the same task to “share” the workload.  Nothing fundamentally wrong with that except someone has to take ownership with the other(s) supporting.  Clarity in ownership is important to avoid finger-pointing or sub-standard action.

President Harry Truman with

President Harry Truman with "The Buck Stops Here" sign on his desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To me, this divided responsibility is reflected in work designs where tasks are broken into so many pieces that no one can have a chance to know if they are doing a good job.  This is because the actual outcome is buried multiple levels beyond the first step.  Customers get frustrated as they have to figure out who does bear responsibility.  This often ends in escalations to management that unfortunately take a lot of time to “get up to speed” to resolve a customer issue.  “The buck stops here” is the famous phrase from Harry Truman that I hear from management in service organizations.  Finding the right answer for a customer is the problem.

Clear lines of communication in the design of the work and responsibility of tasks.  Keep the work together if at all possible, but make one person the owner.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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