Renee’s Rule™: You can’t have two captains on the same ship.

June 6, 2010

One of the headlines today in the New York Times reads, “In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was in Charge of Oil Rig.”

If “who was in charge” was, in fact, unclear, it is scary, but, in my experience, too often the case.

Example one: Several years ago, in the process of considering whether to accept a family-owned business client, I interviewed 7 family members, most of whom were in the upper echelons of the business.  Because the company had no organization chart, I asked each person to draw one for me.  No two charts were the same.  The mother-in-law thought the son-in-law was running the company; the son-in-law thought the mother-in-law was running the company.  No wonder the company was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Example two: A 25-year-old, FDA-regulated company with operations in both the US and Canada had been cited for FDA infractions before my arrival.  Unlike the company in example one, this company had a detailed organization chart and job descriptions for every position, so when I met with the Director of Government Compliance and the Director of Quality Assurance,  I asked which one was in charge of ensuring FDA compliance.  The two looked at each other. Neither could answer.

You will not be surprised to learn that I solved the non-compliance problem by simply designating one person who had both the responsibility and authority for compliance. As a result, during the first FDA inspection following my departure, the company received  its first-ever absolutely “clean” bill of health.

The lesson: Imagine a ship with two captains, each issuing different orders—a symphony, in which the conductor is “conducting,” while the concertmaster is directing the strings.  No one would ever consider creating either of those scenarios.  That’s  Management 101.  Why, then, do companies, from small to gigantic, allow that to happen?

Renee’s Rule:  You can’t have two captains on the same ship.

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