Lines of AuthorityBy Gary Cohen
I am a VP and have about forty people reporting to me through six direct reports. I seem to be continually dealing with exceptions from the managers. What should I do?
It would seem that you have an issues that need to be addressed regarding your organizational roles and responsibility for you and your staff. Dealing with exceptions, often means that you are in need of creating clear accountability with your team. Often when leaders experience this they have not created rules outlining everyone's lines on authority in the organization. Given that this is happened within your area of responsibility it is likely that you are finding yourself without lines of authority going up the organization.
Clear lines of authority are when the roles and responsibilities of each person in the organization are defined. All staff members know who is responsible for what in the organization. The organization must establish authority lines that facilitate the work and maintain authority structure to ease operations. This structure provides accountability, clarity, and coherence to the work of the organization.
Because you are in need of establishing these lines of authority currently it is likely that your staff has an operating assumption of how these lines are already drawn as do you. Before you begin drawing up a grid of lines of authority articulating everyone's roles and responsibilities for your department I would invite you to send a note out to, at minimum, your managers asking them what they believe are the lines of authority for their direct reports, themselves, you and your boss. You may find how having these outlined in ones head is contributing to many of the requests you get daily.
If you decided to move in this direction please let the staff know up front that you are the decider. For those of you following the Ask Don't Tell Leadership model remember it is not that we believe that organizations are a democracy, it is simply better to ask than tell. In this case as the leader it is your responsibility to determine what the rules are going to be. And you know that when you are asking for more information you are in this case asking for information to make a better decision. It is this that you want to communicate up front. If you go and ask for everyone's opinions and then you don't appear to take that into consideration you demotivate them for the next time you want their help. People must be clear up front what is expected of them and who the decision maker is going to be. At the end of this exercise everyone will know that you are the decider on this issue because it will be outline under your role.
People are more than willing to help. They just don't want to be disregarded by you if you decide that you really are not going to take their opinion into consideration. If they know up front that you are asking for an opinion and really want to know all you can in consideration of making a decision that is yours to make. Then you will have buy in and empowerment happening.
If you don't understand your staff's feedback clearly, ask more questions until you truly understand their point of view. It is not that you need to agree with them but you do need them to know you understand them and that you really want to consider all that they say as valuable and worth consideration.
When all the data is in from the troops you may want to consider getting feedback from your boss on what your lines of authority are. By doing this you will find that you can operate with greater clarity both inward and outward in the organization.
The ambiguity of decision making comes from not having clarity on each person's role in the organization. Another way to help you determine how to resolve conflicts in the area of roles and responsibility are by examining the exceptions in more detail.
When someone comes to you with an exception the first question you could ask yourself isâ€”what am I going to consider in making my decision? Once you know what this decision making process is you will then be able to see what is not clear in the organizations roles and responsibilities. For example if you find that your manager continues to come to you with changes to the territory if your in a sales role then the first question is, Am I the decider? If you are the decider the next question is what will you be weighing in your decision? If you can clarify this for your direct reports then they can prepare that information for you. If they can prepare the information for you then the next question is what boundaries do you need to develop around that decision so that you will not have to continue to make the decision. Once you put qualifications to these exceptions they fail to continue as exceptions. If you can establish rules, guidelines that can be distributed then the managers are handling these items without you.
When establishing these lines of authority remember that your role as a leader is to distribute as much authority as you can down the organization. This does not mean to abdicate responsibility but to establish it.