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  • John Chambers, PhD

"Who can take this action?"

As executive leader of a company, division or department, you've kept the lines of communication open through ad hoc chats, a culture of collaboration, and the weekly or bi-weekly staff meeting. Some issues that were hallway scuttle-butt may have far more import than coffee-conversation griping. The perceptive leader's ears will tune faster than a night watch dog. Is this an ominous concern? Is it implying an easily fixed nuisance or a potential risk to our strategic goals and customer experience? The perceptive leader may scratch-pad the issue in her mind and take it to the staff meeting, understanding that the issue might have far reaching implications -- perhaps it's a customer (internal or external) capability that isn't quite well defined in the organization.

As the staff meeting plays out, the leader will raise the issue. These cases are typically met with nods from the team, recognizing that indeed, "We don't really have a good process for that" or "We need someone to look into it."

The issue can't be tabled; there is naturally a sense of urgency in developing a response or investigating the means to solve the problem. As a leader, your immediate reaction might be "Who should take this action?"

If there is uncertainty as to assignment, and if the issue at hand is going to ultimately require a week or more of effort and mobilization of more than one professional, the "Who can take this?" is a telltale sign of less that optimal project portfolio management, a clue that project management is an afterthought, and a lack of process orientation. Not all organizations are equipped with a formal Program Management department; however, the principles of project management should be an expectation for all departments. Further, a shotgun approach to finding a volunteer is a sign that you've got some personal, organizational homework to do. If the CxO is tossing out a call for volunteers to look into an issue, then the accountability of each participating group is not well defined. She should immediately know the domain(s) to which the issue belongs; or certainly understand the problem intake process.

Moments like these are calls for the CxO to reflect on her own understanding of the team's differentiated roles. "Who can take this action?" is actually a personal, reflective call for better knowledge of departmental competencies and responsibilities, and a motivator for better understanding of the project intake process.

Remember that process definition and process socialization is a project, requiring deliberation, structure and solidification. If a hallway conversation portends an opportunity to correct an organizational deficiency, it is also a reminder that "taking action" must flow into a project intake analysis. "Who should take this action?" is evidence of random assignment -- lack of organizational clarity. Without formalized management of uncovered problems the issue shall often be forgotten or deferred.... until it rears its ugly head once again.

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