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Responsibility Chains

Written By: Faith Rubin

December 28, 2019 | 1:25pm


If you've ever had an employee, you've probably run into this situation.

You ask, "Did you do [insert task here]?" They respond, "Oh, I didn't know I was supposed to do that."

This can be one of the most frustrating problems to deal with as an employer, because it is hard to say who's at fault. Is it your employee's fault because they should've know the task was theirs to do? Or is it your fault for not explaining it clearly enough, not following up, etc.? Have enough of these experiences, and you'll feel like firing the employee, which means either taking on their work yourself (yikes!) or hiring someone new, which means recruiting, interviewing, training... Either way, it's not good. One strategy I've come up with for keeping employees around longer and helping them meet your expectations is called a Responsibility Chain.


For any function in your company—sales, marketing, ops, you name it—there is SOMEONE who is responsible for doing it. Many times, however, there is not a direct way to think through how the result links to the responsible party. Do this below to figure that out, it’s easy.

Start with this question, then trace it backward:

What is the result you want?

That’s it. Do you want to sell 100 widgets? Do you want to retain 90% of your customers? Write this desired result down.

Next, answer this question:

What is (are) the best action(s) to get this result?

Brainstorm. Write them down. We are looking for a list of things you need to do to realize your goal. If you don’t know for sure, you probably have a good guess. Worst case, make something up then test it (or better, assign someone ELSE to follow the steps below to test them).

Next: What is the step-by-step process for this (these) action(s)?

You have to write it step-by-step so that everything is 100% measurable. It’s easy to follow a checklist.

Finally: Who has the ability to follow these steps?

Choose someone to follow these steps. It could be you, especially if you are unsure about what the best process(es) are. But the goal, of course, is to get it off your plate! You're basically writing computer code that a human can follow. It's computer code in the sense that no step is left out, and every decision is already "made". If you've done it right, there won't be any room for error. But you don't have to be a programmer to do this! Just think like in terms of Step 1, Step 2, Step 3...

BOOM now you’ve created a responsibility chain. You know exactly what results you are trying to get, who is responsible, and what tasks will be perfomed. And better yet, you will improve this process over time. Then repeat!!


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