Who should get the milk?

In the kitchen at work the other day, I made a coffee, opened the fridge to grab the milk and there was none.  After the initial surge of disappointment and frustration passed, I put my cup of black coffee with one sugar in a safe place and commenced the trudge down the hall toward the canteen.

Got to thinking along the way – how do we work out who should get the milk?  In my area we don’t have a defined role to take care of this sort of thing, which leaves it up to everyone.  At the same time, we seem to share an assumption that menial tasks such as milk collection should not be done by ‘important people’.  So how do we work out who is important?

Lets try this.  Starting from the frontline and working up the organisation (or perhaps we should say into the organisation), we encounter accountabilities for different types of work, which can be seen as Levels.   As we work away from the frontline, these Levels change through accountability for;

  • Providing quality outcomes to customers now
  • Managing a team of people who do this or providing professional services
  • Managing teams of teams and improving the flow of work across them
  • Deciding on what the business should and shouldn’t do
  • Deciding the strategic intent of the overall organisation.

In medium to large organisations, all of these levels are necessary, with multi-nationals needing one, two or perhaps even three further levels.

So how do we work out who should get the milk?  I think we stick to the original idea – whoever is least important.

But who that is depends on the timeframe we are talking about.

In terms of looking after a customer right now, the most important person in the building is the frontline staff member, while the least is the Executive.  In terms of accountability for ensuring the overall intent of the business is the right one for where we should be in 5 or 10 years and more, then the Chief Executive is now the most important.

On a given day at work, who has the greater time constraint in their doing what they are accountable for – the frontline staff member hearing the phone ring, or the Executive deciding on which industry and political trends to pay particular attention to in order to ponder the future?

I think we should get the phone answered.   If customers are leaving us today because the phone is not being answered, we won’t have much need for a future-thinking Executive.  And I think most Executives can find five minutes to head to the canteen.

A bit more pondering time will probably do the organisation good, and they’ll meet some nice people on the way!

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