It’s the unlovely little secret of most organizations. It’s the universal challenge facing those responsible for the work of others. It’s the sand in the gears of group productivity.
What is it? Delegating, that’s what. Poor or nonexistent delegating.
Delegating is the reason we have managers. The managers’ job is to clarify and specify what is to be done, then subdivide the workload and assign suitable portions of it to the various people who are under the managers’ direction. Sometimes it works. When it does, it produces results whose quantity and quality rise well above the possible accumulation of individual outcomes from the same workforce.
When delegating doesn’t work, which is often, it is because the managers haven’t successfully set the goals, identified the work and transferred the responsibility. Alternatively, it doesn’t work because the delegatees haven’t done their part. They haven’t gotten it done correctly, or on time. And sometimes it doesn’t get done because it never really was assigned at all.
The general result is that most organizations operate at low levels of productivity, most employees do not achieve and work at their potential – and many managers spend too much time doing work they should be delegating.
The managers often are too busy to take the time to train their staff members to handle activities that properly should be part of their jobs. More basically, they may not get to know their employees well enough to be able to gauge their capacity to grow and perform higher-level work.
Certain characteristics of many managers add to the problem. They earned promotion to their more-responsible positions through their superior skills as individual contributors, and they retain high standards for how that work is to be done. This can be intimidating or off-putting to those who now work for them. Such managers may, actually, demand higher-quality results than are really necessary, and their workers know it.
The syndrome often includes a tendency on the managers’ part to back away from the difficult new pressures of management. They revert to what they know and enjoy, which is doing their old job. It’s easier to do it themselves than try to explain it to those unfamiliar with it, and the managers do a better job, anyway. Naturally, this doesn’t leave them much time to address and perfect the uncomfortable practices of management – including delegating.
It is not unusual that senior managers in organizations suffering from poor delegating see what’s going wrong at the direct-management level. The problem is that they often don’t understand how to do it, either, and their criticisms and directives simply add to the stress.