In the mid-1980s, I was hired as the manager for a multi-million-dollar branch of a large truck leasing operation in Denver. We had 14 union mechanics, two salespeople, and two office staffers. My branch secretary was a peak performer at handling the massive volumes of company and governmental paperwork necessary to keep the branch running smoothly. That is, until I took over!
Since I was the new boss, I decided that I needed to see every piece of paper (to get a feel for the operations) and sign off on every contract and request (to learn the business). In so doing, I completely demotivated (actually devastated) the branch secretary. What's more, despite my best intentions, I was becoming a bottleneck and hurting operations more then helping them.
Finally, just before my secretary was about to resign, I saw the light. I took a stack of papers to her desk, piled them in front of her and said, “I'm really stagnating the work flow around here, causing you a lot of grief, and making a mess of just about everything. Here, you take this stuff and only give me what you think I need to see. In other words, I want you (secretary) to help train me (branch manager) on how to run this place.”
The secretary pushed her chair back from her desk, lifted her face toward the ceiling, and let out the loudest sigh of relief I had ever heard and then exclaimed, “Thank you!”
As I teach effective delegation techniques in my management excellence workshops, I have discovered that many of today's well-meaning building supply managers and supervisors are just like I was two decades ago—lousy delegators. I share with them the lessons I learned because at one time I too got it very wrong.
Lesson No. 1: You don't need to see every piece of paper—even if every piece of paper has your name at the top! If you think you do, then you are a control freak and perhaps a central cause of operations slowdowns (since your people can only work as fast as you can shuffle paper).
Lesson No. 2: You do not have to sign off on every request, credit, purchase order, or other financial paperwork. If you think you do, then you really don't trust your people to take care of your company's assets. If you don't trust them, why do you keep them?
Lesson No. 3: Your people may actually know more about running your place than you do. You may think you know everything, but you don't live in the trenches every day. But if you do find yourself living in the trenches every day and doing exactly the same kind of work of your subordinates, then either you or they are redundant!
Take a close look at what you are doing to either speed up or slow down your operations. Maybe all you need to do to make things a lot better for everyone, including yourself, is to give up a little control and let people do what you pay them to do. That is a good starting point for becoming a better delegator. —Dr. Jim Harris is an adviser to business leaders in leadership, organizational, and management excellence. 877.638.7733; www.drjim harris.com.