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Nearly two years ago I shared a story about a thirty (30) ton lift where more than 15 people were present, with the overall less being that the Leader Takes the Blame. After reviewing the story, there was another lesson to share from that adventure:
If Everyone Is Responsible, No One Is
Very often as leaders we find ourselves addressing a group, saying things like:
"Don't forget, someone needs to verify that the input table information is accurate."
"Before we leave today, someone needs to ensure that the paperwork is signed-off and with the testing material tomorrow for the customer."
Invariably in those moments, we think that since we said it, someone will do it. Then when we go to use the input table, or show the customer the test material, we find that the table is wrong or the paperwork is missing; and your entire team ends up scrambling. How can this happen? We asked for "someone" to look after these items. Who didn't do their job?
The short answer: You! By asking for "someone" to do something all you guarantee is that everyone thinks someone else will do it!
To go back to the lift example from the previous blog entry, there were (at least) 15 people present who should have verified the slings in order to prevent the lift issues in the story. But no specific person was assigned the responsibility to verify the slings. The end result is that we scrambled and had to save a customer relationship. Thankfully, we also learned our lesson by creating a new checklist requiring sign-off by the rigger and the lift supervisor on sling capacity as a requirement to actually perform any future lifts. That checklist is a verified document by the company management and kept on record for every lift since.
Now, for the examples above, what I want you to do is ASK A SPECIFIC PERSON to do the activity, and not "someone." When asking about the input table information, make sure you say:
"Eric, don't forget to verify the input table, the information needs to be accurate."
Or for the testing material paperwork:
"Laurie, please make sure the paperwork is signed-off and with the testing material for the customer's visit tomorrow."
By doing this, you ensure that a specific person is responsible for the activity, and everyone is clear who will perform the action. The final step, to point to another previous blog entry (Trust But Verify), is to perform spot checks. Circle around with the person assigned, and ask if they did the work; or walk by and check that the request is complete. This shows you care, and that you will hold people accountable for their responsibilities.