Responsibility vs. Fault Ratio

Fault = You created a problem due to an error you made.

Responsibility = It’s your job to fix the problem.

For most individual contributor roles, it is your responsibility to fix any mistakes that were your fault.

I call this 1:1 responsibility to fault ratio.

You clean up any messes you make.

However, as you move higher in an organization, the ratio changes.

Suddenly, you find yourself taking responsibility to fix a problem that actually wasn’t your fault.

The more senior you are, the higher this ratio becomes.

A vice president might have a 2:1 responsibility to fault ratio. A CEO might have a 4:1 responsibility to fault ratio.

Here’s the hidden insight.

If you want to accelerate your career and progress faster than typical, then do the following:

Voluntarily adopt a higher responsibility to fault ratio before your formal job title requires it.

Here’s why.

When you start fixing problems beyond the ones that you created, here’s what happens.

Anytime an executive hands you one of their headaches to deal with, you make the headache go away.

In contrast, someone who sticks with a “that’s not my mistake” or a “that’s not my job” mentality declines the opportunity to solve other people’s headaches.

When you consistently make headaches go away, guess where there is a seemingly endless supply of headaches in need of solutions?

Senior management.

I’ve been doing this since my very first corporate summer internship. It has served me well.

After I left my internship, my employer (now known as AT&T) offered me a consulting contract to continue the work I had started over the summer.

I landed my first Fortune 500 client at age 20.

Every job I had, I tried to solve every problem put in front of me whether or not it was my “fault.”

The more problems I made go away, the more my boss and my boss’s boss were willing to send more headaches my way.

Every promotion I ever received, I was already doing a fair amount of the new work before the formal title and compensation changed.

The promotion lagged behind the day-to-day reality, and merely formalized what was already true informally.

The key to that approach is to voluntarily adopt a responsibility to fault ratio that’s greater than 1:1.

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1 comment… add one
  • Sean Oliver Aug 31, 2017, 1:10 pm

    I agree. I’d add that shifting from firefighting to issue avoidance, in the same spirit, also is a benefit.

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