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Arun Hariharan

Quality Insider

Give Me Authority, You Take Accountability

For this hands-off attitude, I lay much of the blame with quality folks such as myself

Published: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 14:23

Ask employees what is most important to their company and its CEO and they’ll commonly claim it’s the functions that are reported directly to the CEO. However, from my interactions, it seems undeniable that the organization chart plays a significant role in revealing what is important to the leader... and what is not.

I have noticed that many CEOs like to hang on to functions that, in some way, confer power, authority, or control over people, money, and other resources. In other words, department heads leading functions such as sales, human resources, and finance directly report to the CEO more often than not. On the other hand, functions that imply responsibility or accountability (in particular, accountability to customers who pay for the company’s product or service) are, often enough, relegated down the line.

It’s not uncommon for people heading important areas such as customer service or quality to report to a boss who is not the CEO. What's more, I have seen companies where customer service or quality is not the main job of this boss. In the worst cases, the boss doesn’t even have any experience in these areas. This reporting relationship is more of an arrangement for administrative convenience, where the boss will approve (or disapprove) the customer service or quality person’s leave or bonus. Beyond this, he or she brings no value whatsoever to these jobs.

This is ridiculous. How can any job that affects customers not report to the CEO? To my mind, any job that has anything to do with paying customers must directly report to the CEO, and engage more CEO-time than anything else.

The CEO’s “span of control” or inability to manage more than a specific number of direct reports is sometimes given as a reason for delegating certain functions. My answer: Manage span of control by all means, but do not relegate anything that affects your customers, quality, and permanent improvement. The CEO can always delegate functions that do not directly affect customers. This way, the CEO can focus more on customers and quality—which are bound to lead them to their usual goals of financial results and shareholder value creation. I have seen CEOs who have successfully done this, and hold out hope that someday this becomes the rule rather than the exception.

Another possible reason for some CEOs hands-off attitude toward quality is that they don’t fully understand and appreciate what a powerful enabler of sustained business results quality can be. For this, I would lay much of the blame with quality folks such as myself. If quality professionals create some kind of mysterious aura around quality and speak a language that can be understood only by other quality professionals, but not by ordinary business people, can we complain if some CEOs don’t fully appreciate quality? In my experience, one of the most important responsibilities of a quality professional is to help the company infuse quality into every function. Quality is nothing if it cannot help the business in a way that is visible to customers, shareholders, and the CEO.


About The Author

Arun Hariharan’s picture

Arun Hariharan

Arun Hariharan, author of Continuous Permanent Improvement (ASQ 2014), and The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook (ASQ 2015) is a strategic quality, knowledge management (KM), and performance management practitioner with nearly three decades of experience in these fields. He has worked with several large companies and helped them achieve substantial and sustained results through quality and customer focus. He is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach, a company that provides partnership, consulting, and training in business excellence and related areas. Former roles held by Hariharan include president of quality and knowledge management at Reliance Capital Ltd, and senior vice-president of quality and knowledge management at Bharti Airtel Ltd, India. He is a frequent speaker at quality and KM events around the world. He is also the author of more than 50 published papers on quality and KM.


While I agree with your point

While I agree with your point that Quality should report to CEO's, your point was almost missed based on the poor argument and assumptions you've make as to the positions that do typically report to CEO's.  You state that the functions CEO's like to hang on to "confer power, authority, or control over people, money, and other resources" and functions that imply responsibility or accountability are relegated down the line.  First, I don't know of a CEO who doesn't demand accountability and responsibility REGARDLESS of the position; Sales, HR, and Finance most definitely are responsible and accountable.  How do you deduce otherwise?  Second, power, authority, and control over people, money, and other resources are broad characteristics and lines can be drawn to virtually any position within the company and not solely residing in Sales, HR, and Finance.  I think you could have made a much more effective argument without throwing CEO's under the bus!