Authority is more than just naming someone in charge. Through effectively distributing and managing authority, people better understand their environment, feel empowered to make decisions, and recognize that their undertakings have value.
Without authority, managing changes and paradigm shifts (such as transitioning to become a truly data-driven organization) becomes impossible. People need to know that the hard work of changing their mindset, process, or expectations won’t be a waste of time.
When we’re looking at the foundations for governance, we define authority as the formalized structure denoting responsibility and decision rights. In our work, we look for names of people who are expected to influence behavior or to make a decision. We also look for opportunities. Does someone that the rest of the organization sees as an influencer see themselves in that same way? Does everyone involved in a decision know who is the ultimate authority?
In the ever-changing landscape of healthcare organizations, it can be difficult to ensure the necessary authority for an effort. Authority must be coupled with an innovation mindset such as the characteristics seen in high-reliability organizations, acknowledging that even very important efforts may not succeed the first time. Decision-makers will be increasingly reluctant to wield their decision rights if they fear failure.
Authority is granted from the top down, but it doesn’t take much to remove credibility. When championing a new initiative, it’s essential that senior leadership assigns authority to people with strong judgement who are also trusted by the team at large. It’s equally important to maintain support. If something goes awry (as it likely will with a new endeavor), the person with the authority to make the decision in the first place must also have the authority to adjust the course and continue to make headway. Not only does this set your staff up to function as a team in this project, it also reinforces a collaborative culture that learns from mistakes instead of seeing status or position depend on perfection.
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