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What Are You Responsible For?

Posted by Mark Fallon on Aug 24, 2016 5:00:00 AM

QuestionMark-1.jpgThe best part of business travel is the people you meet. Maybe it’s in the line at airport security. At the gate waiting between long layovers. Or eating alone at a restaurant. Sometimes, I meet an interesting person seated next to me on the plane. When that happens, the flight always seems too short.

Last month, I was very lucky. As I took my seat, I said “Good afternoon” to the man next to me. He responded with, “Good afternoon. How are you today?” I could sense a good conversation, and a short flight.

I asked if he was heading out or heading home. He said that he was going home. But, he had one more stop to make. The gentleman explained that he owned a small company in England, and was visiting customers in the United States. Before returning, he was making a detour to South Carolina to play golf with a friend.

For a while, we talked about his company, their products and customers. He turned the conversation back to me with the question, “What are you responsible for?”

Wow! What a great question, “What am I responsible for?”

In most cases, people ask, “What do you do for a living?” or “Who do you work for?”. Simple questions requiring little thought. As a consultant, I usually answer with some information on how I help my customers, including sample projects. But “what are you responsible for?” carries deeper meaning, and requires more thought.

As managers, it’s a question we should ask ourselves on a regular basis. And, we should reflect on how well we’re fulfilling those responsibilities. A self-review that we can keep to ourselves or share, depending on your preference.

For example, before starting The Berkshire Company, I was the Vice President, Document Technology and Delivery at State Street Corporation in Boston. This is how my biography describes my job:

Mark managed 125 employees in the Document Technology and Delivery department, overseeing document services, delivery services, centralized receiving, and mail operations. In this capacity, he led projects on automating mail processing, centralized receiving, and implementing new color print solutions.

A description that is similar to what you might read in most resumes. A short list of the functions of my department. How would it read if I had to answer, “What was I responsible for?” Maybe something like:

Mark was responsible for creating a work environment where the staff could succeed, continuously improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the operation, and supporting the company’s principal business.

I tried to live up to those responsibilities, especially in creating the best work environment for my employees. There’s nothing more important for a manager to accomplish.

Of course, my boss thought that improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the operation was more important. Especially the “efficient” part, as he gave me budget reduction targets every year. His boss, the Executive Vice President, always stressed the importance of supporting the company’s business. He was a “big picture” guy.

With these responsibilities as guidelines, I could prioritize activities and projects. Working with Human Resources on job classifications, meeting the budget reduction goals, and developing new processes to support the business units – all activities that were in line with my responsibilities. Getting new furniture for my own office – probably not.

Ask yourself the question, “What are you responsible for?” Break down all of tasks and projects to the core of what you intend to accomplish. Examine your calendar and question any meetings that don’t support these goals. Then measure yourself by how well you manage “what you’re responsible for”.

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