Dear reader,

in most workplaces, one of the most common rat-races is the one for responsibility. Beware: not responsibility per se but in the sense of “becoming responsible” for a lofty-sounding office or area.

Is there something intrinsically wrong with it? Of course not! Asking for more responsibilities is one of the quickest and most time-honoured ways to grow! If you ask for a job you are not (yet) qualified, it will undoubtedly improve your current professional abilities if you commit to improvement.

However, we must keep in mind Peter Principle, summarised by this two sentences: “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out” and  “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”. It explains why I said that this is a rat race: everyone is racing to obtain a place high on the org chart and, at the same time, meet their professional end-point reaching it.

But the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

Seth Godin

Moreover, an org chart should be viewed, in my opinion, as a tool that helps to reach two distinct objectives:

  1. Define the structure of communication inside the organisation (thanks to Ben Horowitz and its book “The Hard Thing About Hard Things”)
  2. Give power to people responsible for carrying out task and projects

The first point should be understandable enough, and I will not comment it.

The second is a little more subtle, let’s make an example. Suppose you are assigned a project that, to be brought to completion, requires speaking with high-ranking members from other branches of your organisation and asking for work from people under their responsibility (maybe people that are themselves in a higher rank that you are).

In principle there is no difficulty: everyone involved should realise that the project is one of the objectives of the organisation. Thus communications and work should proceed smoothly. Right? Well, I’m not saying this is wrong, I only say “Go forth and try it yourself!” Unless you have a strong personal reputation, know very well the key figures involved, have a supernatural charisma or a combination of the above, it will be challenging to pull it out. That’s why sometimes “project org charts” are used: to give people the temporary power to carry out their assignments.

To everything there a dark side: sometimes promotions and spots in the org chart are used with less useful (or less commendable) intentions, i.e. to “burn” someone or to cover up the mess left by his/her predecessor, without really tackling the problem from its roots.

Thus, for the considerations above it was invigorating and an honour to get to know someone who, in a single stroke, was able to get out of the rat race and refused to be used as toilet flush, in order to keep doing a job competently. This is an excellent form of responsibility carried out through actions, in my opinion.

Until next time, stay focused on the global mission, not on spots on a chart.