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The Confusion Of Roles

Scott Berkun’s books have always been lucrative gold mines for bloggers wanting to explore novel ideas and insights. His latest release, “The Year Without Pants, is no different.

In TYWP, Scott discloses a major cultural malady that plagues corpo America: “The Confusion Of Roles“.

One major mistake Schneider (Automattic Inc’s CEO) had seen was how companies confused supporting roles, like legal, human resources, and information technology, with product creation roles like design and development. Product creators are the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do. A classic betrayal of this idea is when the IT department dictates to creatives what equipment they can use. If one group has to be inefficient, it should be the support group, not the creatives. If the supporting roles, including management, dominate, the quality of products can only suffer. – Scott Berkun

The “Confusion Of Roles” is simply not a problem at Automattic Inc. That’s because there are no legal, human resources, finance, quality assurance, or information technology silos within the flat-as-a-pancake company.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy for a cozy, small company like Automattic. But there is no cure for the “role confusion” disease in big borgs like yours, right? Bzzzzt!

HCLT CEO Vineet Nayar wrote about the exact same productivity and morale killer in his shockingly titled “Employees First, Customers Second” book. Taking the bull by the horns, Vineet corrected the “confusion of roles” epidemic at his 30,000 person Leviathon by inverting the pyramid and instituting a transparent system of reverse accountability called the Smart Service Desk (SSD) .

The SSD is where front line employees can submit problem tickets against the (so-called) support functions. Each ticket has a deadline date and the submitter is the ultimate judge of results – not some self-important manager. Shortly after its introduction, the SSD was receiving tickets at a rate of 30,000 per month – one per employee. D’oh!


Why, you may be asking, aren’t there more “unconfusion-of-roles” change efforts taking place in the land of a million pointy hierarchies? It’s because the pinnacle dwellers who rule the roost don’t see it as a problem at all. It’s the way it is because it’s always been that way and, more importantly, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.

pyramid inversion

  1. September 23, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I’m confused, you mean “the business” isn’t just a life support system for IT? 😉

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