Don't get stuck in the RACI rabbit hole
How to use roles and decision rights to unlock adaptivity
Last month, I released the first couple of chapters of my upcoming book to beta readers. And, oh my, have I received feedback! The 25 readers that took the time to dive in, already left 389 reactions 😱
Thanks, everyone. It will surely help me improve the book! In the mean time, I’ve started writing the chapters on strategy. Stay tuned for more!
Last time, I publicly released a chapter on making reversible decisions (Habit 1). In this edition, I will share an excerpt from Habit 4: Clarify decision rights for more autonomous decisions. 👇
RACI Sucks, I’m sorry I had to say it.
And many people seem to agree.
Imagine you’d like to clarify who can make what decision. One of the most popular methods is to create a RACI-matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed). But it has several serious shortcomings.
If you’ve ever been in a conversation about a RACI, you’ve likely discussed the difference between Responsible and Accountable. And that is not surprising because even the English dictionary tells us that those words are synonyms — quite confusing.
Furthermore, what’s the point of separating Consulted and Informed? It assumes that there are people we don’t want to inform, even though we get information from them, and vice versa. And that every decision requires Consultation and Informing, which shouldn’t be the case. And what should happen if we don’t like the advice we get from the consulted?
I would also be worried if people always needed to tap someone’s shoulder to obtain the information they needed to do their work — a seriously outdated information architecture.
Getting your RACI created and approved by all stakeholders is a painful political process. Since RACI is misused to find the “single wringable neck,” when something has gone wrong, it becomes a cover-your-ass game before the work even starts.
If you’ve made it through, the level of detail in the RACI is so high that it becomes unusable in practice. Chances are, the RACI gets filed somewhere, and nobody looks at it ever again. And that’s a shame because there lies great potential in designing how an organization should make decisions.
Thanks for reading Jurriaan Kamer's Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Define roles and decision rights
Instead of RACI, I recommend working with something simpler and more flexible: roles and decision rights. When roles and decision rights are explicit and clear, it reduces noise and confusion and increases initiative-taking.
Whenever you see blockages in decision-making, invite the relevant parties to discuss their roles and decision rights (as described below). By doing this, you have the power to improve collaboration across siloes or matrices and empower an entire organization.
Roles, not souls
First, let’s separate ‘roles’ from ‘souls.’ A role is something separate from the person holding it. For example, at our company, I have the roles of Author, Speaker, and Consultant. In our family, I hold the roles of Finance Administrator, IT Support, and Cat Caregiver, among others. These roles could (at least in theory) be transferred to and filled by others.
A role is not the same as a job title. For example, if we would ‘unpack’ the job of Head Coach of a football team, we can uncover many different roles, ranging from being the team’s physical and mental coach to being the one who talks to the media. Each role has its own purpose and decision rights that we can make explicit.
Step 1: Purpose
To define a role, start with its purpose. Write a short sentence that answers: Why does this role exist? What impact does it have if it is successful? Someone reading it should immediately understand why the role exists and what value it is supposed to bring.
For example, a Head Coach of a football team holds the following roles:
Transfer Scout: Acquiring a selection of contracted players that allows us to win.
Skill Developer: Physically fit and skilled players through training programs.
Mental Coach: A productive team dynamic and mentally fit players.
Game Strategist: A strategy that allows us to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses.
Public Spokesperson: An enhanced reputation by connecting with the media.
Step 2: Decision rights
Then, define a role’s decision rights by answering: To fulfill a role’s purpose, what decision rights does the role need? What should someone holding it be able to decide alone? For which types of decisions does the role have the final say?
For example: Someone holding role X can…
decide who to…
decide how to…
decide when we…
approve or reject…
can spend… per…
have the final call on…
Here are a few decision right examples from the roles of the Head Coach:
can decide which interview requests to accept and reject
can decide when to release important news to the media
approves or rejects draft press releases
has the final call on the starting lineup for each game
decides the playing formation (like 4:3:3, 4:2:2, etc.)
decides when to substitute which player
can decide which players to acquire within the budget limits
Be specific in what choices you make. It is tempting to write decision rights with words like “ensure,” “align,” “set,” or “manage,” but those words are most of the time ambiguous and won’t help clarify what exactly someone can decide. For example, instead of writing “manage the team,” write “can decide how we structure the team” or “has the final call on the team’s priorities.”
Making the final call after asking for advice
Not all decisions should be made in isolation. Before making a decision, you can let a role ask for advice from another person/role, or team.
An obligation to seek advice can be made explicit in the decision right by adding: “Someone holding role X can decide … after seeking advice from… [legal counsel, our whole team, at least two people that have done X before].”
For example, “for players that cost more than €1mln, the Travel Scout can decide after seeking advice from the Club Management Team.”
Note that asking for advice is not the same as asking for approval. Even when a role is required to seek advice, it is up to them to use it in making the final decision.
Step 3: Distributing roles
When roles are clearly defined, it opens the possibility to evaluate and divide them. For example when the football club grows, perhaps it makes sense to hire a dedicated Transfer Scout that is not the Head Coach. Or, in case the Head Coach takes a more extended vacation, their roles could be (temporarily) picked up by several other people.
Moving away from rigid RACI matrices and job descriptions towards a flexible system of roles and decision rights can more effectively align individuals with suitable roles. When people are empowered to choose roles they wish to energize or leave, they can break free from the constraints of their job titles. Some organizations have even created a ‘marketplace of roles,’ where people can self-nominate for roles that align with their passions and growth aspirations, fostering a dynamic and adaptable workplace.
Even though roles and decision rights can suffer from some of the same problems as RACI (especially when trust is low), it has the potential to facilitate empowerment instead of blame. Since it is simpler and more flexible, it increases the chances of actually being used to navigate decisions.
Do you want access to more chapters?
I hope you enjoyed this first chapter of my upcoming book! If you’d like to access more finished chapters of the book and you’re willing to provide your feedback, please contact me to become a beta reader.
Join free leadership roundtables
🚨 Decision-making is the topic of our next Unblock Leadership Roundtable. If you are leading a team or are responsible for transforming your organization, register here.
Thanks for reading!