Sharper focus, bigger gains: The secret to streamlining operations and boosting profits

Sharper focus, bigger gains: The secret to streamlining operations and boosting profits

/ 02:02 AM April 15, 2024

One of our clients, a wealthy American owner of a family business conglomerate who also acted as its president, complained about a lack of productivity, accountability and output among his top executives. When my team and I did a deep dive analysis of the problem, we quickly found that he made a mistake that we often see around the world: shared responsibility.

Often a business leader is not even fully aware of the fuzziness of his directions and delegation. He slips into the shared responsibility dilemma while thinking he is doing everything correctly. When the sh*t hits the fan and he is looking for someone to blame, no hands go up in the board meeting—no one is responsible. The mistake is often with the leader, not with the ones who are at the receiving end of the delegation.

The virus

This can stretch over the entire organization like a hidden virus. Many conglomerates suffer from this challenge because they have created overlapping roles. Then they wonder why they do not grow as much as they could.


For business leaders, whether they are startup founders, CEOs, executive team members or already heading a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, the strategic assignment of roles can make the difference between organizational inertia and dynamic progress. Assigning clear and singular responsibilities to team members enhances accountability, simplifies follow-up and significantly boosts productivity.


The importance of clear roles and responsibilities

Clear delineation of roles and responsibilities is crucial for several reasons. First, it ensures that every team member knows exactly what is expected of them, which tasks they own and how their work contributes to the broader objectives of the organization. This clarity reduces overlap in work efforts and minimizes the ambiguity that often leads to inefficiencies and conflicts.

Second, when roles are well-defined, tracking progress and performance becomes straightforward. As a leader, you can quickly identify where things are on track and where adjustments may be needed. This timely intervention is key to maintaining project timelines and achieving business goals. This saves you time and reduces your stress when checking on progress with your teams.

Third, clear roles empower employees. Knowing the specific scope of their responsibilities allows individuals to focus on their strengths and areas of expertise, fostering a sense of ownership and pride in their work. This empowerment can lead to higher job satisfaction, better performance and increased loyalty to the company.

Boosting productivity and accountability

One of the most significant benefits of assigning clear roles and responsibilities is increased productivity. When employees are not wasting time clarifying what part of a project they should be working on, they can direct more energy toward executing their tasks effectively. Moreover, clear responsibilities allow leaders to delegate tasks more efficiently, distributing workloads in a way that maximizes the team’s overall output.

Accountability is another critical aspect that is enhanced by clear role definition. When roles overlap, it’s easy for individuals to pass the buck, leading to a culture where no one feels particularly responsible for any failure. Conversely, when each team member’s responsibilities are clearly defined, it becomes easier to hold them accountable for their outcomes. This heightened accountability ensures that issues are addressed more promptly and that individuals are more committed to their roles.

Case study: Peter Thiel at PayPal

I have always loved Peter Thiel’s approach to business and life. A fellow German, he was part of the “PayPal mafia” and went on to become the mastermind behind several multibillion-dollar businesses. During his tenure as CEO at PayPal, his unique management strategy contributed substantially to the company’s early success.


Thiel implemented a management strategy that involved assigning singular, clear-cut responsibilities to each executive on his team. This approach not only streamlined decision-making but also fostered a strong sense of individual accountability among the leadership.

For instance, one executive might be solely responsible for user experience, while another focused entirely on back-end infrastructure. This clear division of labor allowed Thiel’s team to operate with high efficiency and speed, contributing significantly to PayPal’s rapid growth and eventual success. Each leader knew precisely what part of the business they were responsible for, minimizing overlaps and conflicts while maximizing the focus on results.

Most of all, it made his follow-up as CEO a lot easier and faster.

Implementing clear roles in your organization

To implement a similar strategy in your organization, consider the following steps:

1. Role definition workshop: Conduct workshops with your team to collaboratively define each role. This process should include mapping out all current responsibilities and then realigning them according to what best serves the organization’s goals.

2. Feedback and adjustment: Once roles are defined, seek feedback from team members to ensure that everyone understands and agrees with their assigned responsibilities. Be open to making adjustments based on feedback to better align with team capabilities and business needs. But then, they need to commit!

3. Documentation and communication: Document all roles and responsibilities clearly and distribute this documentation throughout the organization. Regularly communicate these roles during meetings to reinforce their importance and clarity.

4. Monitoring and evaluation: Regularly review the effectiveness of the role assignments. Are they helping achieve business goals? Are employees more productive and engaged? Adjust as necessary based on these evaluations.


The assignment of clear roles and responsibilities is more than just an administrative task; it’s a strategic initiative that can significantly enhance the productivity, accountability and overall success of an organization. By looking to leaders like Peter Thiel who have effectively implemented these strategies, today’s business leaders can learn how to more effectively manage their teams, ensuring that each member’s efforts directly contribute to the organization’s goals. As businesses continue to navigate a rapidly changing world, the clarity and focus provided by well-defined roles will undoubtedly be a key factor in their success.

Most of all, think of your time and the mistakes most business leaders make:

Be clear in who does what. Define clear roles. Then stick to them and give very clear and precise instructions. Most CEOs and owners can do much better here because they are too vague. Be precise. Be clear. And you will gain time, energy and profits! INQ

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Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email [email protected].

TAGS: Business

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