The relationship between boss and direct is the most common one in any company. It is also the most important. Bosses increase their effectiveness through directs. And directs’ performance depend quite heavily on the relation to their boss. The responsibility dialogue can help to make this relationship more effective.
I heard about the framework from one of my coaches, Jan Exner. Upon research in the internet, I also found this article (German only) from Bernd Schmid and Arnold Messmer about the concept.
What it is all about
Responsibility means to respond, i.e. give answers or take care of something. A boss and his direct want to have clarity to which things a direct should respond, i.e. take responsibility. Responsibility can be executed when four conditions are met:
- The direct knows his job. You can only take responsibility if you know what is expected from you. Quite often, boss and direct are not clear enough about expectations. This is a sure recipe for disappointment and low performance. As a boss, you test this condition by asking for a rebrief: the direct should describe, in his own words, what you want from him.
- The direct is enabled to do his job. You can only do your job if you have the means to do so. This is about resources, access to information, and decision power that are given from the organization to the individual. As a boss, you should check on a regular basis with your directs if they have everything they need to do their job.
- The direct wants to do his job. Responsibility is not given, but taken. The direct has to decide that he wants to accept the responsibility. As a boss, you should ask explicitly for commitment. And be open enough to accept disagreement. If your direct is not on board, you want to find out as soon as possible.
- The direct is capable to do his job. Directs should only do the jobs for which they have the necessary skills. Ideally, people operate out of their comfort zone and within their learning zone. As a boss, you have to avoid that people get into their panic zone.
The first two conditions relate to the organization. The boss has to create a context in which the direct can perform.
The latter two conditions relate to the direct as a person. It is about the fit of an individual to the function to be fulfilled within an organization. This personal side of the responsibility dialogue is also known as the skill/will matrix.
Why I find it valuable
Regularly, you find yourself in a situation, where a direct (or another person) is not doing what you expect from them. This frameworks helps to look for root causes behind the behavior of the other person. And adjust your response accordingly.
It is also helpful for directs. If they feel uncomfortable with the jobs they get from their boss they can use the framework to find out the reasons. The framework can also help directs to make a dialogue with their boss about their responsibilities more effective.
Relevance for product management
As a product manager, you depend on the goodwill and support of many people. All the different people have explicit and implicit responsibilities for the product. The framework can help product managers to be clearer about who does or should do what. And it helps them as well to think through responsibility issues that might come up in their teams.
Caution: don’t fall in love with a framework. They support, not replace thinking. Frameworks always have a point of view on reality. There are other views as well. Stop using a framework if it doesn’t help to create insights.