The Value of Taking Responsibility at Work

This post was inspired by a conversation with my business partner, Acar Altinsel.

He’s the owner of a company, and he’s a very busy person. He was describing in very funny terms, the difference in value from his perspective between two types of employee. One who takes responsibility and “owns” tasks, and another type of employee who delegates tasks without taking responsibility.

Employee 1 — Takes Responsibility.

If he asks her to do something , whether it’s a one time task or an ongoing activity, he knows it will get done. From the moment he asks, he doesn’t have to worry about it. She will worry about it for him. She may need to delegate it to another team member, but even if she does, she will continue owning the task (worrying about it). And if for some reason it can’t be completed, she will follow-up and circle back to him. In the meantime, he has completely stopped worrying about the task/activity. That’s valuable to him, because he has too much to worry about.

Employee 2 — Avoids Responsibility.

After he asks this type of employee to do something, he still worries. Employee 2 may delegate the task. If for some reason the task can’t happen, employee 2 will be the last to know. Employee 2 stops worrying about the task/activity the moment he’s delegated it. Employee 2 thinks it’s enough to say “I asked _____ to do it.” Employee 2 thinks it then becomes _____’s fault that if the task/activity doesn’t happen, or isn’t done properly.

In all but the tiniest organizations, there’s too much for one person to worry about. If an employee can take a chunk of worry away from his/her manager(s), that is valuable to the manager because it frees him/her up to worry about other things.

So, it’s not just doing work that’s valuable. Taking responsibility for tasks and business activities is also valuable. It’s most valuable if you’re able to do this in a way that allows your supervisors to stop worrying about those activities completely.

How to do this?

  1. Understand that 100% consistency is where this type of value comes from. Worrying is natural. Our goal is to remove worry from our manager’s brain. Being mostly reliable is the same as being unreliable.
  2. Report progress to your manager BEFORE you are asked to report progress. I recommend sending a weekly summary email to your manager giving a status update on all open tasks and ongoing activities that you “own”. The key is to make your progress transparent, but not to bug/burden your manager. You must never bury anything that requires a response inside your weekly status email. Maybe your manager will read it. Maybe not. The point is it’s there if she wants to.

Does this resonate with you? I’ve been working with a small team to build an easy way to make work transparent to managers. If you’re interested in trying it, please visit http://www.processinplace.com