Blog: You Can't Delegate Responsibility

I took an email survey recently that asked what other “Chiefs” there were in our organization.  Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Data Officer, Chief Communications Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Visionary Officer, etc.  I had to click the box marked none and was reminded of my experience as a panelist with a group of CIO’s in 2019 where I was asked if Nebraska had a Chief Customer Officer.   It had never entered my mind that the title Chief Customer Officer even existed; I always assumed the head of an Agency or Company was the Chief Customer Officer so my answer was ostensibly, “me”…  I champion customer service and manage customer relationships.  It never occurred to me that I could delegate the responsibility. 

Every OCIO teammate has the authority to make decisions and take actions to ensure we are providing the best possible customer service, and I believe (and the metrics agree) each year our focus on this increases instinctively.  Each teammate has taken their customer service authority to continuously optimize service delivery from automation to self-service.  Our Metrics at the mid-year point show the result of your efforts.

Indicent Requests

Service Requests

On the topic of delegation, there’s a commonly used idiom in the US which I find relevant here.  “Too many cooks in the kitchen”, meaning there are too many people trying to work on one thing. Too many cooks with various unique approaches can result in the outcome of suffering quality in the final product. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple once stated, “as soon as a company has a Chief Innovation Officer you know that company has a problem.” Has the number of Chief titles increased so much and so fast that the result is “Too many cooks in the kitchen”?   The most interesting CXO-level I have heard about is the Chief Listening Officer whose job skills must include excellent active listening skills and effective persuasive abilities according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Really, how do you get to the Executive level without these basic skills? (Side note: I originally meant to use the “X” in CXO as a placeholder for whatever business technical strategy was being delegated but a Google search of CXO resulted in an actual C-suite position of Chief Experience Officer (CXO), who is responsible for a company's overall customer experience.  Who would have thought?)

The act of assigning responsibility to someone else requires having the basics in place. These CXO’s may have the responsibility for Chief of whatever is popular in the Technology Press or paid for by a technical advisor, but the CIO must still own the responsibility for success or failure.  Chief Information Officers must start with the fundamentals of effective and efficient delivery of service to teammates and external customers. 

Getting the basics right will produce improved operational efficiencies, high system availability and the technical resiliency necessary for any technology organization to be successful.  Beyond the basics, the CIO needs to build a culture that focuses on eliminating technical debt with Application Performance Management (APM) which increases control of budget and cost.   

Changing attitudes toward technology begins with achieving transparency and dispelling the “mythology” — misconceptions, biases and emotional discussions — around IT with hard numbers and facts that are focused on business and mission. IT must be positioned to benefit and impact the business, not the technology itself.

I strive to have a “flat” organizational structure with minimal thought leaders, then a hybrid of facilitators/doers in the middle and the base of teammates that do the tangible work. The middle level should be enablers who empower teammates by providing the authority to make decisions on their own with minimal guidance.  I feel this is a lean, efficient and nimble way to operate.  Poor organizational structures brought on by the increased number of C-level positions can lead to a reduction in productivity. A teammate who is given multiple thought leaders often will receive conflicting communications and will be hesitant to move forward in any direction.


Org Chart

The opportunity for upward mobility is a critical component for a healthy organization, not all decisions should be made at the top.  I encourage my leadership team to prepare and empower their teams to make decisions and successfully execute tasks that move our organization towards our stated vision, continuously providing the strategic vision and support necessary.  Too many “C-levels” can create ambiguity and confusion which interferes with the decision-making process.


As always, I appreciate what you do every day for the State of Nebraska.

Ed Toner